Laura Ray poses with horse in stable.

Lauren Ray: Back to Being a Teen After a Traumatic Brain Injury

Patient Experience

May 5, 2023

Lauren Ray is a typical 15-year-old girl. She loves horseback riding, going to church with her family and spending quality time with her kitties.

In October of 2022, tragedy struck. Lauren and her dad were driving home from a sporting event when a drunk driver failed to stop at a stop sign and collided with their vehicle. Her father died at the scene. Lauren suffered critical injuries, including traumatic brain injury and was airlifted for emergency, life-saving surgery to UF Health Shands in Gainesville, Fla.

The Road Back

After weeks of intensive treatment at UF Health Shands, Lauren was transferred to Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital – University Campus, Jacksonville, Fla., to continue her recovery through inpatient rehabilitation care.

“While Lauren was attending inpatient care, she demonstrated deficits in decision making, balance and limited ability to perform her activities of daily living,” says DJ Burke, PT, DPT, a clinician on the inpatient rehabilitation team at Brooks. “We as a team took an individualized approach, creating tasks that simulated what Lauren needed to do in her life.”

Tasks included simulating throwing a saddle up on a horse, navigating the hallways as if it was school and walking while playing the piano. She was also tasked with high-level balance, increased distances in walking and simulated activities targeting her teenage interests.

Relearning Daily Activities

Soon after her admission to Brooks, Lauren was introduced to the School Re-Entry Program, which provides a continuum of school transition and support services to assist families throughout a child’s educational journey.

“Lauren started asking me about school right away. She was eager to work on her missed assignments, as well as participate in current academic lessons,” said Deborah Davis, MS, Brooks School Re-entry Program coordinator.

Through input from Lauren, her mom, the medical team and her private school, a school transition plan was then developed.

As her rehabilitation journey progressed, Lauren also began treatment in the Pediatric Day Treatment Program. The program is designed to provide individualized, multi-disciplinary therapy for children and teens, ages 5-18.

In the program, patients get one-on-one individualized therapy services including physical, occupational and speech therapy. They also participate in group activities, community outings, functional skills training, educational content and more.

“Lauren was one of the hardest workers that we had in our Pediatric Day Treatment Program,” said Mackenzie Meyer, OTR/L, an occupational therapist for the program. “As a therapy team, we created an individualized plan to meet her specific desires and needs. She told me at the beginning of her treatment that she wanted to play the piano like she did before her accident.”

And she accomplished her goal. Lauren challenged herself every day and was able to play the entire song of ‘Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer’ on the piano by the time she left. She pushed herself even further to play the song while walking through the hallway.

“She worked hard to simulate school tasks, such as walking through crowded hallways and memorizing her school schedule,” said Meyer. “She used her circumstances to push herself and others to accomplish more.”

Returning Back to Normal Life

In January 2023, Lauren returned to her hometown of Pensacola, Fla., and gradually transition back to full-time school.

As a result of her traumatic brain injury, she’s having to work harder than before. But with continued therapy and a positive attitude, she’s improving a little each day.

“I know from speaking with her principal, Lauren is doing well and they are very happy she’s back,” said Davis.

In May, Lauren will be medically cleared to surf again. She is hopeful in August that her doctors will clear her to resume competitive horseback riding.

Her experience has led her to consider a future in neurosurgery and she also aims to educate people on the risks of drunk driving. She hopes to one day become a motivational speaker on the topic.




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