Heather's Story*

Young woman sitting outside in a wheechair on a sunny day.

First words of encouragement

Heather Bivens’ life changed forever on Feb. 3, 2019. The 31-year-old was driving through an intersection when a drunk driver ran through a red light and struck the side of her car.

The impact gave her a traumatic brain injury, fractured C2 vertebra in her neck, broken ankle and femur and a dissected carotid artery – an often-fatal injury. She arrived at her local hospital’s emergency room unconscious.

After a month in Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Heather transferred to Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital for additional recovery time. Heather’s family prayed that, in time, she would heal and return to her life. 

When Heather arrived, she underwent a series of evaluations by our medical team, including physical, occupational and speech therapists.  Each discipline set goals for her, enhancing the program as her strength grew.

It was a slow progression. Heather was unable to move her right side. She suffered from short-term memory loss and double vision. Her broken ankle made walking independently a challenge.

Still, Heather didn’t give up. She learned to sit upright, then began doing so for longer periods of time. Therapists advanced her treatment to include trials of unsupported sitting.  Heather quickly achieved these goals and was soon ready to learn how to support herself while sitting and began working on standing and walking skills.  When she was finally able to sit unsupported, occupational therapists began helping her re-learn self-care skills, such as bathing, grooming and dressing.

Heather’s dedication and willingness to challenge herself were key drivers to her high level of goal achievement.

Her parents, James and Susan, were so grateful to see how much she had progressed.

“Moving her right arm, being able to touch her face and now being able to write with her right hand is an amazing accomplishment,” Susan said.  Friends, family and rehab staff are currently working on keeping her engaged and focused on what she needs to do to get better. Some of her present goals are to strengthen her walking and further strengthen her right arm and hand.

Heather’s family has been there for her every step of the way.

“When Heather spoke her first word since the accident, her son’s name, it gave hope and encouragement to everyone involved and her recovery kept going forward from there,” said her parents. “She continues to build on the gains she has made and to find ways to compensate for her deficits.”

After more than two months, Heather was able to walk out of the rehabilitation hospital with some assistance.  Knowing that her brain will take months to heal, she continues to follow up with her medical team and pursue outpatient therapy.

“Heather believes she will attain her goals. She has so much support and people continuing to encourage her daily,” James said. “She has not had time to be negative. It is very important for her to be able to continue to care for and provide for her son.”

Her family believes they have been “blessed” by the remarkable care Heather received, and her recovery will be a testimony of God’s goodness. 

*Patient success stories from across our hospital network.