Rachelle’s Story: Young Woman Loses Legs, Never Her Spirit

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For Loretta Cooper, one of the hardest things to accept was the possibility that she missed teaching her daughter, Rachelle, an important life lesson.

“You hold their hand to cross the street and you give them a little tap when they run out, and you talk to them about cars…all I could think of at the moment was, ‘I never told her not to stand on the highway.’”

Early in the morning on April 29, Loretta’s husband, Mark, received a call that their daughter had been in an accident. Rachelle and her boyfriend had just pulled off the highway to help friends who had been in an accident.

Pinned Between Two Cars

“She was getting out of the car to comfort her friend and then had the other car slide into her,” says Lonnie Osborne, RN, trauma clinic. The impact crushed Rachelle’s legs between the two cars.

Cody James Joyce, Rachelle’s boyfriend, saw Rachelle and instantly thought, “Why did this have to happen?”

Rachelle was taken to Miami Valley Hospital.

“There are certain things you look at if you think the leg is severed,” says Mbaga Walusimbi, MD, MS, FACS, trauma surgeon. “The key is to determine if the patient is stable enough to do x number of things…can you control the bleeding without taking the leg…without putting the life in jeopardy.”

Two nurses brought Loretta and Mark into a waiting room in the surgical area and told them a surgeon would be in to talk to them. When the surgeon came in and said, “We weren’t able to save the left leg, but we’re trying to save the right,” Loretta and Mark’s world suddenly got a little smaller. 

“We weren’t quite sure what we were hearing or even how to process this,” Loretta says. “We went from thinking our daughter had just gotten a cut, to our daughter has already lost one leg and they may be taking the other.”

But Loretta and Mark were simply thrilled their daughter was alive.

After her first surgery, Rachelle was transferred to the trauma unit at Miami Valley Hospital.

Lyndsey Ross, RN, says that most people come to the trauma unit with unexpected injuries. “It’s a life-altering, life-changing event that just brought them to us.”

“A lot of work went on to save the leg,” says Dr. Walusimbi. “She’s such a courageous, strong young lady and you could see the determination.”

Everyone did everything possible to save Rachelle’s right leg.  “Eventually, it just came to a point where it didn’t seem like they were going to be successful,” Dr. Walusimbi says.

“The Next Step In My Life”

Once it was clear that Rachelle was going to lose her right leg, Lonnie had a conversation with her to make sure she was okay. Rachelle remained positive.

“I’m good. I want this done. Let’s get this done so we can proceed to the next step in my life,” she said.

Loretta says the decision was ultimately Rachelle’s.

“We always said, ‘please don’t sugar coat anything. She deserves to know. If you don’t think this is going to work, please tell her,’” says Loretta. “And they did. They honored us in that way. That’s when I knew we were going to be okay.”

On May 21, Rachelle had her right leg removed.

“It’s so amazing how positive she stayed through this whole endeavor. She never really backed down,” Lonnie says.

Rachelle says that Lonnie really helped her through everything. “No matter what I wanted, or needed, no matter how much pain I was in, he was right there. Even when I wasn’t in trauma and I was in rehab, he would come over and see me,” she says. “He’s a really good nurse.”

“To see somebody, like Rachelle, just fight every day, and then come back to us smiling…it’s great to know that you were there with her,” says Ross.

Home In 40 Days

After 40 days at Miami Valley Hospital, Rachelle went home.

Rachelle’s progress in rehabilitation and various therapies went so well that she was able to finish in half of the anticipated time frame. “They said, ‘There’s no need for us to have to help you anymore. We’re going to get you out of here and get you home,’” Rachelle says. 

“I don’t see a child in a wheelchair right now that doesn’t have legs,” says Loretta. “I see a child that’s in a wheelchair that’s alive, thanks to so many wonderful people.

And God forbid if there was ever a trauma again, in my life, or our family’s lives, I would want to be here, because I really feel that not only physically, emotionally…Miami Valley has healed my family.”

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