2 years later: Lily still getting her life back

       It's been just over two years now since a speeding car turned Lily Griesan's life upside down.

Sitting on the front yard dirt pile she jokingly calls "Dizzy's Garage" (after a family cat), Lily Griesan (far left) poses this week with her sisters (from left) Deanna, Bonnie, Wendy and Valerie.
Westside Pioneer photo

       She's 8 ½ now, and she can still flash the merriest of smiles despite the long recovery process that continues to take up so much of the young Pleasant Valley resident's life.
       It's tempting to see only the half-empty side - that because of the brain injury she suffered in the crash, she still can't walk on her own, can't yet talk quite normally and has problems with the use of both her hands... far from ideal for the youngest (with her twin sister Valerie) of the five Griesan girls - the one who had always been so outdoorsy, the one whose bicycle happened to wind up in the path of the car in the alley behind her house the afternoon of April 19, 2008.
       But the half-full side would see a determined kid who has come a long, long way. Initially she barely survived. For several weeks afterward she couldn't talk, for months her left hand could barely grip anything, until less than a year ago she had to be fed through a tube, and it was even feared she might never get all her mental acuity back. Now she's definitely alive - just try to be in a room and ignore her - and whatever you do, if you don't like pain, don't let her grip one of your fingers with her left hand.
       As for the feeding tube, Lily's mother, Jean Griesan, happily reports she can feed herself just fine now. The tube had been necessary so long because of “concern that Lily was aspirating (food going down into her lungs instead of into her stomach),” Jean relates in an e-mail. “She also had a limited range of what she would eat, and for about two or three months, I had to log every morsel of food that she ate and every sip that she drank. It was time consuming and draining for me. Thankfully, we're all past that, and we don't have to be extra careful with her stomach area for fear that the feeding tube would be pulled out.”
       The best indicator of her mental comeback is that Lily, who attends Howbert Elementary (just as she did before the accident), “is in second grade, right where she should be, and she seems to be doing well academically,” her mother reports. “She did have some short-term memory issues, and they are gradually going away. We have seen this in everyday life, but it is also becoming apparent at school. Her reading comprehension was fairly low at the beginning of the year, but recent testing has shown a dramatic improvement. The teacher and special education staff were SO excited, and we were too!”
       But it's also true that Lily is far from the recovery finish line. Even two years after the accident, she needs to keep seeing medical specialists. Outside of school, these include occupational therapy twice a week and, once a week, physical therapy, speech therapy, therapeutic horseback riding and counseling. Less frequently she is treated by a masseuse and a chiropractor and sees a rehab specialist at Children's Hospital in Denver. In school, she is pulled out of class for speech therapy twice a week and works with the school physical therapist in a class with a few other students “where she does 'brain gym' exercises once a week,” Jean writes. “These are movements geared to help both sides of the brain work together. Lily enjoys these classes with her [the therapist] and these other children.”
       Regarding counseling, Jean, who keeps a regular journal online, suggests in a recent entry that it's quite frankly needed by all the family members - herself, as well as her husband Tom and daughters Deanna, 16; Bonnie, 14; Wendy, 11; and Valerie, 8. “I honestly didn't realize how much Lily's accident would impact our emotional state for each of us,” Jean writes. “ So many little things have changed since the accident, family things, and I think that each of us yearn for what was before. We've all had to grow and learn and be stretched through this, but I guess my point with this update is that there's a lot going on inside of each of us, and it's going to take time and effort to pull through. I would have never guessed it would be like this, but we find ourselves here. I'm thankful that we have counseling available to us, and I'm very grateful and blessed for all of the friendships and support that we've gotten from innumerable sources. Thanks to all of you.”
       One bit of good news is that the medical bills, which were once piling up, have become more manageable. Medicaid has accepted Lily as a secondary insurance, “and so that covers the holes where our insurance won't cover things or coverage runs out mid-year,” according to Jean.
       Also helpful is the restitution being paid by the driver, who was convicted of reckless driving.
       No one can predict with certainty what the future will bring. During the first year, Jean was told by a specialist that was when most of the healing could be expected. And yet steady healing has continued since then as Lilly regains her physical and mental powers and slowly rediscovers what's involved in talking and walking. There are still unknowns about the human brain, and what allows it sometimes to literally re-route circuits around permanently damaged areas such as Lily has.
       She is part mischief-maker, seeking ways to stick it to her mom in a recent game of Uno or, engrossed in a project with crayons, telling a photographer, “I'm busy, come back in an hour.” Yet, as Jean noted in a recent interview, Lily has “another side to her. She is very tender with little people and those having a hard time.” At a recent event the family attended, her wheelchair wound up next to one holding a little boy. “They held hands,” Jean recalled. “He cried when he had to leave.”
       She's not the complaining type and can be happy doing what she is able to do now. A popular spot for her, especially as warmer weather arrives, is a dirt pile in the front yard. She calls it “Dizzy's Garage,” named for a family cat. Armed with a trowel, which she uses with either hand (though still with a little difficulty getting the initial grip), she crawls about, digging away on new layouts. Sometimes, Jean said, other kids in the neighborhood will join her.
       But there is no question about Lily's desire to do a lot more. Her eyes came alive on a recent visit to her house when she saw, two yards away, a few romping neighborhood kids. “She loves those kids,” Jean said. “She wants to be running around with them so bad.”

Westside Pioneer article