Real life

A for­mer model talks about com­ing to terms with her in­juries and find­ing love af­ter a freak ac­ci­dent.

Friday - - Friday Contents - Lau­ren Scruggs, 26, lives in Plano, Texas

As Christ­mas mu­sic filled the air, it felt like the per­fect evening. My mum Ch­eryl and I were at our friends, Mike and Shannon, for din­ner on De­cem­ber 3, 2011 and, as al­ways, it was great fun. Their home is built close to a pri­vate airstrip in McKin­ney, Texas, US, and when one of the guests, Mike’s friend Curt Rich­mond, asked af­ter din­ner, “Who wants to go fly­ing and see the Christ­mas lights?’’ I jumped at the chance. I love ad­ven­ture and as Curt is an ex­pe­ri­enced flyer I didn’t give it a sec­ond thought.

But as I climbed into the tiny two-seater plane that be­longed to Mike and Curt, I sud­denly felt cold.

The heater was on, but it didn’t help as what I felt wasn’t that kind of cold. As I looked into the dark, rainy, star­less sky, an in­ex­pli­ca­ble fear took hold of me. “This is stupid, get a grip,” I thought to my­self as I des­per­ately tried to re­lax and en­joy the flight.

Curt and I put on our head­phones so we could talk to each other and I lis­tened as Curt went through his check­list and tax­ied the plane out on to the run­way. “Nice lights,” he said as we soared into the dark night sky, but I was al­ready so fright­ened all I could re­spond was “Uh-huh”.

I’m sure the Christ­mas lights were pretty that night, but for some rea­son I was too ner­vous to con­cen­trate on them and I can’t even re­mem­ber any­thing in par­tic­u­lar that Curt must have pointed out to me.

I kept feel­ing an over­whelm­ing sense that some­thing was about to go very, very wrong.

My body grew tense and my breath­ing be­came shal­low as my heart be­gan pound­ing in my chest.

I gripped both sides of my seat tighter and tighter and I didn’t dare say a word, let alone look down and ap­pre­ci­ate the twin­kling Christ­mas lights be­neath me. In­stead all I could think was, “This plane is go­ing down and I am go­ing to die.’’

I have no idea how long we were up in the sky, but it felt like a life­time.

Fi­nally we landed and I breathed a huge sigh of relief while chastis­ing my­self for hav­ing such stupid ir­ra­tional thoughts.

We were safe and I couldn’t wait to step on to solid ground.

Climb­ing down from the plane I don’t re­mem­ber if I even spoke to Curt. I re­mem­ber my feet touch­ing the ground and the sky be­ing black, and then noth­ing else.

S ome re­ports that fol­lowed the ac­ci­dent claimed that I must have been stupid or drunk to do what I did, but I was nei­ther. I don’t re­mem­ber what hap­pened, but I later learnt that be­cause of the wind’s di­rec­tion that night, the plane was parked fac­ing a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion than I had ex­pected it to be. If it had been parked to the south, I would have got out and walked in a straight line to the hangar.

But be­cause the plane was parked north, it meant that when I ex­ited I needed to walk in a semi­cir­cle around the plane to re­turn to the hangar. For rea­sons I still don’t know, maybe be­cause I had been so ner­vous that night and be­cause it was dark, in­stead of turn­ing to the right and walk­ing round the back of the plane, I turned to the left... and straight into the pro­pel­ler.

Even at mod­er­ate wind speeds if you look at a pro­pel­ler when it is mov­ing, it is al­most in­vis­i­ble; so on a dark driz­zly night like it was, when I got down the wrong way, I didn’t stand a chance.

My mum’s friend Shannon was the person who first told my mum. Run­ning into their home she was scream­ing and said: “I think Lau­ren lost her left hand.’’ And then pan­de­mo­nium en­sued as my mum raced on to the tar­mac and found me ly­ing in a pool of blood. Ap­par­ently my poor mum just kept say­ing, “Lau­ren it’s me. Can you hear me?” It was 8.54pm when Shannon called for an am­bu­lance and min­utes later paramedics ar­rived at the scene and bat­tled to save me.

It was min­utes later as they shone a flash­light around 12 me­tres from the ac­ci­dent site that they found my sev­ered hand.

Paramedics said the ex­tent of my in­juries “took their breath away”.

My hand had been sev­ered, my left col­lar­bone was com­pletely shat­tered and my left eye had been sliced in two. Sur­geons had to in­stall plates un­der the skin above and below my eye where my fa­cial bones had been smashed.

Later, they also had to am­pu­tate my arm high up so I could wear a pros­thetic. Thank­fully I re­mem­ber lit­tle of the next three weeks that I spent in hos­pi­tal. Mean­while, doc­tors pre­pared my fam­ily for the worst. The doc­tors were un­sure I would sur­vive and if I did, they were wor­ried I would never be the same again. They said I might never ut­ter a sen­tence again and could be re­duced to the men­tal age of a child. Bone from my skull had bro­ken off and lodged into my brain and they were un­sure just how much dam­age this had caused.

When I was taken to hos­pi­tal I was un­con­scious and was rushed straight in the op­er­at­ing room, where I stayed for hours that night while they bat­tled to save me.

My mum, dad, Jeff, a mar­riage coun­sel­lor and twin sis­ter Brit­tany

kept a con­stant vigil at my bedside when they were al­lowed in and were re­lieved when the next morn­ing my dad said to me, “Lau­ren, just please give a sign you are OK,’’ and I softly squeezed his hand.

Later that day I also opened my eyes and said, “hi”.

But I re­mem­ber none of this. I was out of it on pain med­i­ca­tion, but I know at some point I kept say­ing to my sis­ter, “Brit­tany un­curl my fin­gers.” She had to sit me down and say, “I can’t Lau­ren, your hand feels like it is there, but it isn’t.’’

Slowly as they be­gan to wean me off my pain med­i­ca­tion, I be­gan to re­alise the full im­pact of what had hap­pened to me. With my brain in­juries the doc­tors told my par­ents it could be weeks, if not months, be­fore they knew the ex­tent of the dam­age the pro­pel­ler had done.

But my fam­ily had faith I was go­ing to re­cover 100 per cent and were pleased that day by day my speech got stronger.

While I was im­prov­ing phys­i­cally, once I un­der­stood the ex­tent of my in­juries, men­tally I crum­bled. It might have ap­peared to other peo­ple that I was func­tion­ing, but in­side I was fall­ing apart and it would take months for me to even be­gin to process all I had lost.

The things I once took for granted like brush­ing my hair, putting on my make-up and dress­ing my­self, I could no longer do. As a small-time model and fashion writer my en­tire life had been fo­cused on how I looked and now I felt so dis­gust­ing I could not even face look­ing in the mir­ror.

Af­ter com­ing home from hos­pi­tal as they re­duced my med­i­ca­tion I be­gan to fi­nally get a bet­ter sense of what had hap­pened to me.

My arm was hurt­ing con­stantly and I felt per­ma­nently ex­hausted.

It was a cou­ple of days into the new year, when I first plucked up the courage to look at my­self in the mir­ror.

I went into the bath­room by my­self, turned on the wa­ter of the shower so there would be cover noise and locked the door.

Stand­ing in front of the mir­ror, for the first time since the ac­ci­dent, I ex­am­ined my body.

My head was shaved on top and there were two long scars. The

In­side, I was fall­ing apart and it would take­months for me to even be­gin to process all that I had lost

pro­pel­ler blade must have sliced me twice be­fore I jerked away. On the left side of my up­per fore­head my skull was dented and where one of the scars ended just above my mouth, my lip sagged slightly on one side.

My left eye was en­tirely miss­ing and the up­per and lower lids were cut through. My left hand was miss­ing and four teeth were cracked.

I must have stood there for at least 10 min­utes and then from deep within me a storm of mourn­ing brewed and broke forth.

I climbed into the shower and as the wa­ter rained down, I crum­pled to the floor and sobbed.

The fol­low­ing weeks were very, very dark and the happy-go-lucky girl I had once been was a thing of the past. My fam­ily was amaz­ing at try­ing to lift my spir­its and there were days full of sun­shine, but they were few and far be­tween. Of­ten I would break down in tears for no rea­son, but more of­ten than not be­cause I was in pain.

Re­hab was tough as I learnt to do all the things I once took for granted.

Sleep be­came al­most im­pos­si­ble for me as I twitched with pain and most nights Mum slept next to me to make sure I stayed calm. I was ab­so­lutely drained and my once fun-filled life at­tend­ing fashion shows for my life­style blog, Lolo, seemed a dis­tant mem­ory. “What am I go­ing to do, who will love me?” I would ask my dev­as­tated fam­ily. And night af­ter night my mum would hold me and re­as­sure me I was still beau­ti­ful.

I would be OK for a few min­utes then would be over­come by what had hap­pened to me.

Some days I couldn’t even get out of bed and on Jan­uary 17, when I was off all med­i­ca­tion, that’s when my de­pres­sion hit hard. I was no longer the up­beat girl my fam­ily knew and loved.

One night we sat watch­ing a mind­less TV show called The Bach­e­lor, where beau­ti­ful girls vied for a sin­gle guy’s at­ten­tion and I re­mem­ber think­ing, “I’m never go­ing to be nor­mal. I’m just ugly.’’

From out of nowhere a rage took hold and I started scream­ing, “My life is ruined. No one will ever love me. I am so ugly.’’ My par­ents jumped up and tried to help me, but I was in­con­solable and that was just one time when anger gripped me.

I knew I was hurt­ing peo­ple with my be­hav­iour and that broke my heart, but I just could not stop.

I wor­ried con­stantly about all the things I was sure I would never be able to do again. I won­dered how I would ever water­ski, how I would surf or box with one glove, or even

dress my­self with one hand. But grad­u­ally, with the love of my fam­ily, things slowly got bet­ter.

I be­gan to find an in­ner strength and grew more and more de­ter­mined that what ever I needed to over­come, I would.

I be­gan train­ing with other ath­letes and af­ter be­ing fit­ted for six dif­fer­ent pros­thetic arms, which each per­formed dif­fer­ent func­tions, I be­gan to re­alise that I could and would do all the things I thought would not be pos­si­ble again. My ‘summer arm’ is my pros­thetic I like to wear in the summer, as it looks more tanned.

But it is the three dif­fer­ent pros­thet­ics I have been given to work out in that have changed ev­ery­thing for me.

They al­low me to box and surf and as I got used to them, my body re­sponded by get­ting stronger and stronger ev­ery day. When I first started re­hab I could barely do one push-up, but now af­ter work­ing with weights I can man­age plenty.

In­stead of feel­ing de­pressed I be­gan to feel em­pow­ered. Now I prac­tise mar­tial arts, box and am more ac­tive than I ever was, even be­fore the ac­ci­dent.

My body is the same build, but it is stronger and fit­ter than ever be­fore. I have been fit­ted with a false eye that is painted to match my good work­ing right one. At first it felt weird, but as the mus­cles have grown at­tached to it, it has started work­ing more like my reg­u­lar right eye and while I still feel a lit­tle self-con­scious it’s get­ting eas­ier ev­ery day.

And now I can even tie my hair up by my­self, too!

But it was in De­cem­ber 2012 that my life re­ally be­gan to look up – when I met my boyfriend Ja­son Kennedy.

Heworks for a US TV entertainment show that had been cov­er­ing my ac­ci­dent and the at­trac­tion be­tween us was in­stant.

‘Hi Lau­ren, it’s great to meet you’ he said and as our eyes locked I knew some­one spe­cial had en­tered my life.

He never knew me with my hand or my eye, but fell in love with me any­way and his love has given me the strength and con­fi­dence to feel whole again.

He pro­posed to me re­cently and I feel like the luck­i­est girl in the world.

I have come so far that the other day I even said to Ja­son, “I ac­tu­ally feel grate­ful for the ac­ci­dent as if it had not of hap­pened, I’d have never met you”, and I mean that.

It has taken me many dark months, but fi­nally feel truly happy in my own skin.

I have an amaz­ing man, have pledged to start a foun­da­tion for other peo­ple who have lost limbs and I don’t think life could get any bet­ter.

Ja­son didn’t know me be­fore, but fell in love with me any­way – and his love’s givenme strength

I don’t re­mem­ber much about my time in hos­pi­tal

With my fam­ily, be­fore the ac­ci­dent changed my life

The three dif­fer­ent pros­the­sis I have for work­ing out al­low me to do all sorts of sports

The love of my par­ents and twin sis­ter has al­ways been a source of strength

My fam­ily and brother in law are so happy to have their pos­i­tive Lau­ren back

I am­now stronger and fit­ter than I was even be­fore my in­juries

I met my fi­ancé, Ja­son Kennedy, when his TV show cov­ered my ac­ci­dent

In this photo taken with a friend I am wear­ing my ‘summer arm’, which is the more tanned pros­thetic

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