TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — A majority of May 29, 2020, is a blur for Laura Burdick.
“My sister and I had a phone conversation when I was driving up to Chicago that day,” Laura recalled. “And I remember that a little bit, but otherwise I don’t remember much about that day at all.”
Her lack of memory is due to the car wreck that happened that day. Laura was hit while traveling on a frontage road. Another driver came off the interstate and landed on top of Laura’s car.
Laura suffered a spinal cord and traumatic brain injury and faced a recovery journey that was anything but certain.
“I say this about spinal cord injury, what I’ve learned is the answer is always, ‘I don’t know’,” Laura shared. “From a doctor even, who knows everything there is to know about it and researches it and works on it all the time. They don’t know, like ‘we don’t know what’s gonna come back. Is it gonna get better? We don’t know’.”
Laura said there were challenging days as she entered rehab at QLI in Omaha, Nebraska.
“There were definitely hard days where it’s like, you know, you’re getting closer to that year mark where they say everything comes back in a year that’s gonna come back. And so that was challenging at times to like approach that year and to not have function in certain areas of your body.”
But it’s the days when Laura reached her goals that stand out in her mind.
“I wanted to be able to drive this wheelchair instead of having to be pushed around in a wheelchair,” Laura said. “And one thing was being able to get my hand up on this joystick so I could move it around. And I couldn’t do that for a long time. I had no bicep strength. And I remember sitting with Erin, my OT, one time and she would always just be like, ‘okay, put your hand down there’ just to see if I could do it. And finally, one day I was like, ‘oh my God, I did that’.”
That occupational therapist, Erin Young, said that was just one of Laura’s many accomplishments in rehab.
“Just looking at her on paper and seeing her level of spinal cord injury and the neurological damage that was done, I think it’s easier, it was easier to underestimate her,” Erin said. “I tried to set realistic goals for what I thought she could accomplish, and that’s with over six years of experience, and she surpassed them. She surpassed all of them.”
Erin shared that her bond with Laura is one that will stay with her throughout her life.
“I was her therapist, she was my patient, but she also became a friend and so she’s just so special to me for that reason,” Erin said.
Erin recently began teaching at Creighton University and said the transition from being an OT to being an educator has come with more ways to share Laura’s story.
“She’s already had an impact on my teaching,” Erin said. “I’m teaching a neuro course this semester that’s just wrapping up. She’s been an example that I’ve used for a number of different topics, like the importance of meeting somebody where they’re at and the importance of really finding what is meaningful to someone and, for Laura, that’s giving back to others.”
Erin described Laura using words like “grace”, “resilience” and “coolness under pressure”. She referenced a story from when Laura was maid of honor at a friend’s wedding and a technical malfunction led to her not being able to read the speech she had prepared.
“Someone recorded her speech,” Erin said. “It was phenomenal. She just had to do it like completely off the cuff. It was so funny. It was so heartwarming and like, she’s, she just is kind of the person who can do anything. You know, she’d never wish this injury upon anybody. I would never wish this injury upon anybody, but if there’s someone who’s equipped to handle it, I think it’s Laura.”
And Laura does more than just handle her situation; she uses it to motivate others, both in her job as a health coach and in her speaking engagements out in the community. She recently spoke at the Terre Haute Women’s Conference and also led a workshop at Common Ground Yoga & Crossfit in town.
“This word had stuck, started sticking out to me about a year ago now and it’s contribute,” Laura shared. “Something I had lost was a life where I just had total freedom, total independence. And so if I was able to help other people see like you have that, you have that capability, that ability, that’s what I can do is help people, guide them on that path of realizing what’s available to them and helping them be as healthy as they can be so that they can say yes to things they want to do.”