Overcoming the odds

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:17

Fredon — One of Tierney Veliz’s last recollections were of her hands slipping off the steering wheel of her Nissan Altima. The 22-year old Manhattan College honors graduate said she was not wearing her seatbelt when her accident happened on June 5, on a quick and familiar five-minute ride from her parents’ home to her boyfriend’s parents’ house. “I was only about 150 yards from their driveway,” she recalled. Tierney’s car hit the left hand curb, struck a large rock, spun counterclockwise on Route 94, and then hit two signs before it landed on its roof, leaving her partially ejected from the vehicle. She was airlifted to Morristown Medical Center with severe injuries. Her spine was fractured in 16 places, her hip and collarbone were broken, and her brain was bleeding. For five weeks, Tierney remained in Morristown’s Intensive Care Unit Trauma Department. Her survival was uncertain. She required many surgeries, including one that reattached her neck to her spine. The accident left her paralyzed from the chest down, only able to move her right arm. “I didn’t know I was paralyzed initially,” Tierney said. Tierney had difficulty breathing because of the fractures and required the assistance of a tracheotomy. Initially, she could only eat through a feeding tube. Tierney is now a patient at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, NJ. She has made small advances since her accident - a fact she reminds herself of daily. She is no longer on the tracheotomy, and is now able to eat food in small bites. Doctors told her she would never be able to do either again. She can now slightly lift her left arm, which doctors also said she would never be able to do. Tierney has an iPad, and a special stylus and apparatus, which is strapped to her hand with Velcro when she uses it. She can now access Facebook and music programs to help pass the time. She is optimistic she will walk again. “Everything is going well,” Tierney said. 15 hours of therapy per week “Therapy is pretty exhausting,” said Tierney. She tries to pace herself between therapy and the stream of visitors who come to see her, but tires easily. The accident has been emotionally devastating to her family. “She was like the glue that has held this family together,” said Tierney’s mother Rosemarie. “She’s a brain, she’s beautiful, and she has many gifts.” Tierney is a graduate of Pope John High School and was named Miss Fredon 2007. Tierney was accepted into Seton Hall’s PhD program for the fall with plans to become a clinical psychologist. She has postponed her admission to the school until she recovers further. Tierney is the eldest of four children. Her brother, Chase, has Mucopolysaccharidoses, an incurable metabolic disorder that renders him bedridden and in need of 24-hour medical care. While her parents Rosemarie and Edmundo have cared for Chase, Tierney often helped look after her younger siblings, Christian and Marina. Her family and friends have been by her bedside praying with her. Tierney believes these prayers have contributed to her progress. “You have to believe," Rosemarie said. "You can’t waver in this.” Friends have planned a "Coming Home Benefit Event For Tierney Veliz” on Saturday, September 24, from noon to 9 p.m. at Lodestar Park in Fredon. The goal of the event is to raise money for the family to help with mounting medical bills and to defray the costs of remodeling their home to make it accessible when Tierney comes home from Kessler. The fundraising event is $5 per person, with free entry for children under five years old. There will be live music, and the Knights of Columbus and Blairstown Rotary will have food concession stands. The Fredon Fire Department will host a beer tent. There will be a flea market and auction, and vendor tables are also available. Children can enjoy free games, clowns, pony rides, bounce houses, a petting zoo, face painting and balloons. To donate to the Tierney Veliz Benefit, checks can be mailed to Lakeland Bank, Fredon Branch, 395 Route 94, Fredon, NJ 07860. For more information about the fund call 973-383-3802 or 973-383-4239 or email slbc58@ptd.net or maryannecondit@gmail.com.