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Remarkable Recoveries: Lisa's Story

Lisa and her mom

Lisa Mazzola would be the first to tell you she shouldn't be here. On the night of June 8, 2004, a driver going the wrong way on a one-way street in Hyannis clipped the front wheel of her motorcycle at 40 mph.

  • A motor vehicle accident left her near death.

A motor vehicle accident left her near death.

Lisa Mazzola would be the first to tell you she shouldn't be here. One the night of June 8, 2004, a driver going the wrong way on a one-way street in Hyannis clipped the front wheel of the 46-year-old’s motorcycle at 40 mph.

The impact ripped Lisa's helmet from her head. She was thrown to the pavement, tumbling and skidding until coming to rest under the car that hit her. "It's a miracle I'm alive. It's a miracle that I can walk and talk," she says.

Fortunately, an ambulance was behind Lisa. EMTs found a crumpled woman under the car. Her left arm and shoulder were twisted around her body. Her hip was shattered. Her teeth were broken. Unseen, blood was starting to pool in her brain. Lisa Mazzola was dying.

A little over a year later, Lisa was walking with only a slight limp and talking excitedly about getting back to work. Her story is one of faith, determination and courage, aided by the skill and patience of the team at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Cape and Islands – now Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Cape Cod – that treated her over the next 16 months.

She woke the morning of July 4, memory restored for the first time since the accident. She described the accident to her nurses and the feeling that it was a miracle she was alive. From that point forward, Lisa started fighting back. Her grit impressed the team. "She had so much to overcome," says social worker Janet Mooney. "She was so remarkable. We all ended up learning from her."

After three weeks of inpatient rehabilitation, Lisa went home. Her team had prepared her mother and family about how to foster Lisa's progress. "They were so wonderful to Lisa -- and she was tough," says Lisa's mother, Anne.  "I can't say enough about what they did for us." 

Lisa continued her recovery with outpatient therapy three days a week focusing on flexibility and strengthening exercises. The fractures in her upper and lower body made rehabilitation a slow process.

"That was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Lisa says now. Determined to overcome the challenges, Lisa pushed herself, often doing more than her therapists prescribed. "I had this 20-speed bicycle that I rebuilt. I would ride that bike around the park 20 to 30 times the days I wasn't at therapy," she says.

Lisa also decided to stop taking pain medication. "I felt I could take control of my recovery if I could begin to feel my body. So one day I just flushed the pills down the toilet," she says.

Faced with another challenge, the team turned to teaching Lisa pain management techniques. The techniques helped, but the days she had to work her left leg, which was held in place with a surgical steel plate, were difficult. "The muscles and nerves in my leg would give, but the metal wouldn't," she says.

Still, Lisa persevered. "It was the small things, like getting to the point where Lisa was able to put on makeup. That's how we measured progress," says Julia Rush, outpatient occupational therapist.

Therapy sessions helped Lisa deal with the trauma of the accident, as did the constant support from her large family. Later, Lisa's love of working with her hands (she once owned a painting and furniture refinishing business) became crucial to her psychological recovery. "Being in a wheelchair or using a walker didn't matter as long as I could use my hands," Lisa says. "And God gave me my hands."

In the months after her return home, Lisa rebuilt the motorcycle she was riding the night of the accident.  She rebuilt her boat and put a deck on her mother's house. While still using a walker, she tore out and rewired the dashboard of her truck. "I had to do these things to know that I was going to be OK," Lisa says simply.

Today, Lisa continues to exercise to recover more flexibility and strength. "It's incredible that I can walk,” she says. “Everyone [at the rehabilitation hospital] was so great. So understanding. They gave me my life back."

Learn more about Spaulding's Brain Injury program.

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