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Birthday Celebration Turns Tragic for High School Contemporary Dancer

Birthday Celebration Turns Tragic for High School Contemporary Dancer

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Last October, 17-year-old Marissa Gonzales joined friends and family members celebrating her father’s 38th birthday. Although he was drinking, when he got behind the wheel to get a late-night snack, several people including Gonzales climbed on board.

Driving erratically and too fast, her father lost control of the truck, hit a metal railing, flipped twice and hit a tree. No one, including Gonzales in the backseat, was wearing a seatbelt. Her father was killed and she suffered a broken femur that she aggravated at the accident scene by walking around to see if others were hurt. Everyone was. And she knew, though no one admitted it, that her father had not survived.

Today, the 18-year-old has regained the ability to walk and has come to terms with the death of her father, though it’s an ongoing struggle. On May 24, Gonzales joined other trauma survivors attending Harris Health System’s annual Trauma Survivors Celebration.

The event recognizes the remarkable stories of triumph and recovery of patients treated at Ben Taub and Lyndon B. Johnson hospitals, sites of Level 1 and Level 3 trauma centers, respectively. It reunites patients with members of their hospital care team, and in some cases, first responders. The event is held in May to coincide with National Trauma Awareness Month.

After the tragic accident, Gonzales was rushed to Ben Taub Hospital where the emergency staff reassured her, made her comfortable and assessed her leg. Walking after the accident complicated the break—the two portions of the broken bone overlapped and had to be separated before they could be stabilized with a metal rod.

“My leg hurt every time I moved,” she says, “so the nurses were very gentle and moved me only when they had to. Everyone had their jobs. I was taken care of very quickly.”

Gonzales was in surgery before the night was over. The leg was fixed, and the healing began. She was in the hospital five days, dealing with both emotional and physical trauma. Recovery was hard. For a while, she stopped eating and talking as she grieved the loss of her father.

Healing enough to walk comfortably took two to three months. Over time, her emotional health improved too. She was a contemporary dancer at MacArthur High School, but missed so much school after the accident she chose to withdraw for the rest of the year.

She’ll return next year as a senior. In the meantime, her leg is getting a stronger and she’s caring for her active two-year-old nephew while her sister completes school.

The accident changed her life. She now warns people not to drink and drive—and she wears and advocates for everyone to always wear seatbelts.

Lyndon B. Johnson and Ben Taub hospitals are vital parts of the Houston/Harris County emergency response system. The hospitals are staffed by renowned medical experts from The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston and Baylor College of Medicine, respectively. Both facilities combine to treat nearly 172,000 emergency patient visits and trauma cases annually.

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