Hit by a Truck and Given Up for Dead, a Woman Fights Back

Keith Bedford for The New York Times


Ms. Gossiaux with her mother, Susan. Ms. Gossiaux is undergoing
physical therapy after suffering a traumatic brain injury, cardiac arrest, a
stroke and multiple fractures.


December 21, 2010


Hit by a Truck and Given Up for Dead, a
Woman Fights Back


He reached for her hand. It had been five weeks since the accident. Emilie
Gossiaux, 21, lay in a bed in the surgical intensive-care unit at Bellevue
Hospital Center. She could not see. She could not hear. Beyond asking for water,
she spoke very little. Her boyfriend, Alan Lundgard, 21, took her left palm in

Ms. Gossiaux was riding her bicycle in Brooklyn on the morning of Oct. 8 when
an 18-wheel truck making a right turn struck her. Once she arrived at Bellevue,
her heart stopped for about one minute after she went into cardiac arrest. She
had suffered a traumatic brain injury, a stroke and multiple fractures in her
head, pelvis and leg.

Ms. Gossiaux’s mother said that on the second day a nurse told her that her
daughter was gone, and asked about organ donations.

Five weeks later, Ms. Gossiaux was still alive. But her future looked grim.
Her parents were planning on taking her back home to the New Orleans area and
placing her in a nursing home. At the time, a doctor told her family that she
was not a candidate for rehabilitative treatment because there was no way to
communicate with her.

Mr. Lundgard had spent every night at the hospital. Nobody had told him what
the nurse said that second night. Nobody had the heart to.

Ms. Gossiaux and Mr. Lundgard met in 2006 in Colorado at a summer arts
program for high school students. She was born in Metairie and raised in
Terrytown, both suburbs of New Orleans. He was born in California but grew up in
Midland, Mich. He loved her voice: one of his friends called it milk and honey.
They met again in 2007 as freshman art students at the Cooper
for the Advancement of Science and Art. A couple since last February,
they soon moved in together. The loft in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where they lived
and drew and painted was filled with light. The morning of the accident, she had
been riding her bike to an art studio, where she had an internship.

When Ms. Gossiaux was a little girl, there were times her parents thought she
was asleep in bed, but she was not. She was drawing her own comic strips,
sometimes in the closet, sometimes with the shades open by the light of the
moon. She has been hearing-impaired since she was a child, and had been wearing
hearing aids since kindergarten. As she grew older, her hearing worsened.

In May, she had surgery to receive a cochlear implant, an electronic device
known as a bionic ear, in her left ear. She took the fall semester off from
Cooper to recuperate.

After the accident, Ms. Gossiaux had not allowed anyone to put in her
cochlear implant or the hearing aid she wore in her other ear. Mr. Lundgard and
her parents, Eric and Susan Gossiaux, feared that the accident had left her
blind. Mr. Lundgard read on the Internet about Helen Keller and her teacher
Annie Sullivan; to communicate, Ms. Sullivan used her finger to spell words on
Ms. Keller’s palm. He did not think it would work. But about 3 a.m. that
November morning in her hospital room, leaning over her bed and holding her left
hand, he decided to try.

With his index finger he spelled, one capital letter at a time, the words “I

“Oh, you love me?” she told him. “That’s so sweet. Thank you.”

It was the first time she had responded in any significant way to the many
attempts to communicate with her. In her disoriented state, she thought he was a
kind stranger. “It wasn’t even a conversation,” Mr. Lundgard said. “It was just
that one exchange which alerted me to the fact that she was not damaged to such
an extent that it was beyond her ability to recover.”

Mr. Lundgard later had a longer conversation with Ms. Gossiaux, in which he
finger-spelled questions and she responded. It took a long time to spell one
sentence, but she understood what he wrote on her palm, telling him what year it
was and where she was born.

Shortly after, she allowed her hearing aid to be put in her right ear. In an
instant, she was back. “When she came to, it was like a party in the hospital,”
said Mr. Lundgard, who is taking a year off from Cooper to help his girlfriend;
he is a seasonal employee at The New York Times, working as an art assistant.
“All the nurses came in; they were, like, dancing and screaming.”

Ms. Gossiaux never went to a nursing home. She was transferred to NYU Langone
Medical Center’s Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine on East 17th Street,
where she has been undergoing physical therapy.

Fate seems a meager word to describe the great mystery of their lives. On the
morning of the accident, Mr. Lundgard put her helmet on her, strapping it on
tight. A bus driver at the Louisiana school district where Susan Gossiaux works
— a woman Ms. Gossiaux’s mother had never met — donated 106.5 sick days so that
she could be by her daughter’s side. After the nurse told her that her daughter
was gone, Susan Gossiaux was whispering in her ear when Ms. Gossiaux suddenly
raised her arm.

“I had the head doctor of surgical I.C.U. say, ‘Miracles happen,’ ” Susan
Gossiaux, 59, said.

On Saturday afternoon, Mr. Lundgard sat at the edge of the bed next to Emilie
Gossiaux at the hospital on 17th Street. “I feel like a newborn baby, just
starting over,” she said softly.

The big rig had nearly killed her 71 days ago. Now she lay in bed, teasing
Mr. Lundgard about the crush she had on him in sophomore year, laughing about a
joke one of her therapists had told her. She spoke of wanting to graduate from
Cooper, of wanting to sculpture again, of wanting to join the Peace
. She believes she will get her sight back.

“They told me that there was a very small chance, but if there’s a chance,
then I’ll believe in it,” she said, “and I’ll have hope in it.”

Ms. Gossiaux reached for his arms. He leaned over the bed. “You want to get
up?” he asked.

“No,” she said. “I want a hug.”


Jim Dwyer is on leave.
Copyright. 2010. The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved


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