For Rangers fan, a miracle comeback

For Rangers fan, a miracle comeback

DALLAS -- Katie Brownfield loves the Rangers and loves baseball.

You might say she is a die-hard Rangers fan. You would definitely say that, miraculously, she dies hard -- or not at all.

"I consider myself lucky to be alive," Brownfield said. "I could have ... never been able to communicate with anybody again."

Instead she is a proud graduate of Texas A&M and works at UT Southwestern Medical Center. She has a Rangers blog and just purchased a Rangers season-ticket mini-plan for 2010. She has an engaging smile, a bubbling personality and an overflowing optimistic outlook on life. She dreams of a job of traveling with the Rangers and writing about them.

If you saw her on the street wearing her Texas Rangers hoodie, you would never suspect that five years ago she was given up for dead -- not once or twice but three times.

She is spending this Christmas with her family. She spent Christmas 2004 in a coma hovering on the brink of death after her Chevrolet pickup was broadsided by an electric company truck going 65 miles per hour on a highway outside College Station.

"They worked the accident as a fatality," Brownfield said. "They shut down the highway for five hours. Three times I could have died. I should have died on impact."

The rescue workers thought she would die at the scene of the accident. She was taken to a hospital and placed in critical care, but she was not expected to live through the night. A few days later she was transferred by ambulance to Baylor Medical Center, and a physician there was amazed that she survived the 80 mph drive from Bryan-College Station.

But some six months later she was able to hobble into the Ballpark in Arlington with her dad and cheer on the Rangers.

"I had my walking stick, and my dad was holding my hand," Brownfield said. "I watched the game and screamed as loud as I could. The Rangers ... they were huge in my recovery, being able to watch them. I love baseball. Some people think it is boring, but there are so many little things to enjoy, like batter-pitcher matchups. I think it helps me to focus. I know so much trivia about the players and the teams."

The accident took place on the afternoon of Dec. 17, 2004. Her semester exams were over, and she was on her lunch hour from work. Her debit card said she went to Chick-fil-A, but she doesn't remember going there.

She was driving up an on-ramp to State Highway 6 when her right-front wheel apparently went over the shoulder of the road. She overcompensated by jerking the steering wheel to the left and lost control of her truck. It swerved into traffic and was "T-boned" by the electric company truck.

Brownfield, who was wearing a seatbelt, didn't die but was in a coma for five weeks and a day. Even after she came out of it and opened her eyes, it was days before she could do anything. Or even think straight.

"I remember waking up and thinking, I can't sit up, I can't move the left side of my body, I can't think straight," Brownfield said. "What if I'm like this forever. It was incredibly depressing. Before that I had a normal life."

Her list of injuries was staggering. Her tailbone was broken in two places. Her pelvis was broken in three pieces, two of them crushed. Her collarbone was broken by her seatbelt. She had a lacerated liver and spleen, and bruised kidneys and lungs. She was bleeding on both sides of the brain. She had suffered vertical and horizontal brain shear, which separates the lobes of the brain.

There were times, lying in bed, when she would look at her left foot and yell, "Move! Move! Move!" The foot refused to obey.

"I never thought something like that was possible," Brownfield said. "Many times I just sat there and cried. The rehabilitation was so exhausting. There was one day where I said, 'I don't want to do this today.'

"But then I thought, 'Do I want to be like this the rest of my life?' I decided to work hard and get back to where I was. I thought, 'Quit whining. This stinks, but I don't want to be like this the rest of my life.'"


"I don't stress out, and I don't sweat small stuff that won't matter five or 10 years from now. I got hit by a truck and survived. What could be worse than that?"
-- Katie Brownfield

The recovery is measured not in days and weeks but months and years, first at the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation and then Centre for Neuro Skills in Irving, a nationally known clinic that deals with brain trauma. She had to start from the beginning.

"I had to be potty-trained again," Brownfield said. "I was wearing a diaper. I had to learn to walk again, I had to learn to swallow liquids because I was choking myself. I had to learn how to tie my shoes and dress. I remember what a big thrill it was when I took a shower myself again."

It was a life-changing experience.

"I know I'm a better person," Brownfield said. "I'm so much more understanding of people now, and I get so excited over little things, like when I was first able to roll over in bed again or tie my shoes. I can snap my fingers with my left hand. That's huge.

"I don't stress out, and I don't sweat small stuff that won't matter five or 10 years from now. I got hit by a truck and survived. What could be worse than that?"

Five years later, her life is just about back to normal. She was 18 hours short of graduating at the time of the accident, but she went back to complete a degree in English Literature.

Occasionally her left hand and arm will do strange things out of the blue, but for the most part there are no signs of the trauma. She has a nerve stimulator device implanted in her lower back for pain management. The device sends out pulses that confuse the nerves and mask the pain that remains.

The one big hurdle left seems to be getting back to the relationship she once had with God. That has been hard for her.

"Before the accident, I was a very devout Christian," she said. "But this made me very angry with God. I was doing everything right, so why is he making me go through all this stuff. But through the years I've realized that God wouldn't let me go through this if I wasn't strong enough to handle it.

"There are things to learn, and I realized I could help other people in other situations."

Brownfield said she has great empathy for Josh Hamilton and the long struggle he had to go through to overcome alcohol and drug addiction. She has had to wage a similar struggle in her own traumatic way.

"I have so much respect for him," she said. "He has the relationship with God that I used to have and want to get back to. He's so brave and unashamed about what he's gone through, and he's willing to talk about it so publicly. I admire that."

She follows in his path in one respect. She is willing to tell her story. She goes back to the rehab centers to share her experiences with others who have suffered severe brain trauma. She keeps a photo of her smashed truck on her desk at work to remind her how lucky she is to be alive.

"I tell people there is life after brain injury," Brownfield said. "I wish somebody told me that, because it seemed interminable. But this is where I am after what I have been through. I tell people that you may never feel you will get out of here, but you will get out of here, and you will eventually get on with your life."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.