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Words of Wood- Christie Reeder

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Christie Reeder-More Than A Survivor

                                           By Wayne Wood
   Hoover native Christie Reeder grew up in a typical middle class family. She was born on November 11, 1969 to her parents & as the baby sister to her 2 older brothers. After briefly living on Shades Mountain, the family moved in 1971 to a newly developing area of Birchtree off Patton Chapel Road mainly to be near Hoover Ballpark so her brother Alan could play baseball.
   Mr. Reeder coached his son in baseball & football at the ballpark. Alan played little league baseball from 1969-1980 and football from 1969-1977. He eventually played for the Berry High School Bucs. In 1980, he won the prestigious Johnny Church Memorial Award in baseball. Christie’s oldest brother Bryant played hockey for the Birmingham Junior League at Oxmoor Ice Lodge in the early 1980’s.
   Christie regarded her childhood as a happy one. She attended Gwin Elementary School for grades 1-6 and Simmons Junior High (now Middle) for grades 7 & 8 which were both within walking distance from home. She reflects, “Our house on Hurricane Road backed up to Hoover Ball Park which made it most convenient to walk through the backyard to practices or games. I spent my early years playing in the sandbox with friends then onto Hide & Go Seek and Kick the Can while Alan played his baseball games. I later played softball for a total of 6 years at Hoover Ballpark and later Shades Mountain Ballpark from 1979-1984. Sports was a large part of my life beginning early.”
   “I took dancing for 5 years, played softball for 6 years and played basketball at Simmons in the 7th & 8th grade. My first love was always softball. I attended W.A. Berry High School from 9th through 12th grade. I didn’t play any sports but attended many high school football games & other sporting events. Mostly just spent time with good friends doing typical high school things…malls, movies & cruising Hoover Square.”
   “Susan Ponds & I were most always in the same homeroom beginning in the 7th grade. We became very close friends in 9th & 10th grade..best friends actually. We spent most of our time together either in person or tying up the house phone (before the times of cell phones). We wore each other’s clothes & jewelry..even somewhat resembled each other in our features. We even wore each other’s senior class rings”
   “It was August 11, 1987-the day my whole world changed. It was a typical summer night…one of the last ones before our senior year started. There was much excitement about the future. A night that should have been just one last night to enjoy before we headed back to school. Who would’ve ever imagined it would be life altering for so many of us?”
   The night before on August 10th, Christie & Susan were with 2 Berry High classmates, Heather Hyde & Ashleigh Nutter. The four girls were having a typical teenage girl spend-the-night get together at Ashleigh’s house on Al Seier Drive. Mr. & Mrs. Nutter were both out of town while her two younger brothers were with relatives.
   Through the evening, the girls did usual fun things many normal teenagers might do. At some point early in the morning, Ashleigh got together with a boyfriend who had recently graduated from nearby Vestavia High School. The young man had a red Ford Mustang sports car in which the two drove around for awhile before returning to  her house with the other 3 girls.
   Around 4 a.m., the group decided to go on a fast ‘fun-ride’ in the neighborhood. From the Nutter’s street, they turned onto Al Seier Road which had become notorious for a speeding stretch. The winding road gradually sloped downhill making it a potential ‘thrilling ride’ for speedsters. At the time, there were no adjoining roads on the right side making the temptation for speeding even more so. Ashleigh was in the front while the other girls were in the back seat.
   The young man obviously wanted to show off his fast car for the girls. It was later estimated that his car was traveling over 90 mph when he lost control towards the left side of the road into a ditch quickly colliding with a culvert from an adjoining residential road. The crashing impact on the driver’s side flipped the car into the air turning it over on the road resulting in a brutal result. It was later determined that the young man had a high level of alcohol in his system. It was another case of driver irresponsibility in defying logic, common sense & safety judgment leading to a car defying gravity & crashing.
   Being so early in the morning, only a few residents heard the wreck and it took awhile before the police arrived. The location & the usual morning traffic gradually became a chaotic scene of confusion. Because the wreck impact on the car was so brutal, recovering the kids from the mangled vehicle was painstakingly slow. Three were killed instantly, Ashleigh died on the way to the hospital and one girl, though badly injured, survived being airlifted to the hospital.
   It was difficult to determine identifications because of the victim’s swollen faces. The surviving girl had on a class ring with the name ‘Susan Ponds’ on the inside on it & because of the breathing apparatus on her face & her sandy blonde hair in disarray it was assumed it was Susan. The Ponds family was called to the hospital under that assumption.
   Members if the Reeder family were asked to identify the other girl which had on the ring of Christie with similar appearances. So through Tuesday and into Wednesday, the newspaper & TV reports were conveying to the public that Christie had died with the other kids. It was one of the top news items locally.
   However, on Wednesday, Mr. Reeder had gone to collect his daughter’s jewelry & personal items he assumed to be Christie’s but something seemed wrong at the outset of viewing them. He soon reported his doubts to the Hoover police & his belief that the girl at the funeral home was not his daughter even though the officials there told him that it was.
   Arrangements had been made at Southern Heritage Funeral Home for a Wednesday evening closed casket visitation with a funeral the next day. The doubts of the morning & afternoon came to reality & verified focus that evening. The funeral home full of grieving teens & adults became a scene of bedlam when the facts were connected that it wasn’t Christie but rather Susan who had died. This added more intensity to the already tragic situation.
   That Friday of August 14th was one of the saddest days in Hoover. Many of us attended 3 straight funerals that day in different locations. First was Ashleigh, then Heather and finally Susan. Ashleigh & Susan were buried in the Southern Heritage Memorial Garden a few yards from each other. I had all 3 girls in my 7th grade History class at Simmons more than 4 years earlier. It was a heartbreaking day of enormous levels & it manifested into the school year at Berry impacting the student & faculty there was well as the Hoover community as a whole.
   However, the knowledge of Christie in the hospital served as a unifying factor. Though the situations & circumstances were far different, it reminds me here 30 years later in the fall of 2017 of how our Hoover community has rallied around the current condition & hopes for the recovery of former Hoover Buc athlete Ben Abercrombie . Ben was severely injured in his first football game as a freshman at Harvard University early in the season.
   It certainly puts athletics and life and perspective not discussing championships, wins & individual accomplishments but rather the long process of recovery in physical therapy. In discussing this with Christie, I surmised that possibly her involvement in athletics a few years earlier might have given her somewhat of an edge in the strength of her body. Of course, there were also the factors that her survival was aided by wearing a seatbelt and being the middle one in the back seat between her friends which might lessen the impact to a degree.
   Following is Christie’s story and know that she has more than just survived but rather strive to thrive and help others.
   “Two weeks later, I remember waking up. I remember there was a lot activity…people in & out. My memory was very hazy during the first couple of weeks coming out of a 14-day coma. I remember seeing familiar faces & wondering why they were there…and where was there? Where was !? I remember finally being able to ask where I was & why was I there.”
   “After I was told what had happened, my life would never be the same. Over the next few weeks, I tried my hardest to digest the new reality that was now my life. It felt like it was all a dream..actually a nightmare. The worst one I could ever imagine having.”
   “I had been flown by Lifesaver to Carraway Methodist Medical Center-the only trauma center in Birmingham at that time. I spent from August 11th until September 30th there. These ‘mean’ people came into my room every day to make me do therapy. I had to re-learn even the simplest of tasks due to many injuries including a traumatic brain injury. I spent my days in Physical Therapy being taught bed mobility, transfers & eventually how to stand up first via tilt table then with the maximum assistance of 2 therapists. I wore a hard plastic corset-type brace whenever I was out of bed. I HATED it. I hated all of it.”
   “I realized at this point that I had a long road ahead. At times I just wanted to give up–this was all just too much for me to cope with. How would I go on with life? My best friend & 2 other friends were all gone. So Many Questions!”
   “My days at Carraway were tough. I finally decided I was going to prove those wrong who said I would never walk again. I pushed myself through every hour of every day. A lot of time through tears, I knew that was the only way I would ever get out of there. My injuries consisted of a fractured cervical vertebrae, fractured lumbar vertebrae with a fusion L-2 through 4 using a bone graft from my right hip, secured by steel rods. I had a ruptured spleen that required removal & a steel plate put in my right forearm due to a fracture there also. And finally a traumatic brain injury.  The thought of remaining handicapped at age 17 was not an option I was willing to think about or accept. It made me push myself that much harder to recover & was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do.”
   “The day came when the decision was made for me to move to Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital for aggressive therapy in a rehab setting. I was transferred to Lakeshore via ambulance on September 30, 1987, admitted & rolled in on a stretcher. I was terrified of the challenge that lie ahead. What followed was many long, grueling days of therapy. Physical Therapy & Occupational Therapy twice a day, Recreational Therapy, Music Therapy & Psychology sessions daily. At the beginning & end of each day was a small meeting for those of us in the Traumatic Brain Injury unit. The leader would review very basic facts such as the date, the day of the week, our location, etc.”
   “Those days spent at Lakeshore were some of the toughest yet but little by little I was improving with strength & cognition. I was getting better physically & mentally. I had regained some hope & positivity regarding my recovery & the future. Maybe I could bounce back from this terrible tragedy I was left to endure. My physical therapist was Beth Curry. She & I developed a special friendship & I trusted her completely. She pushed me to achieve my maximum potential in 30 days as an inpatient.”
   “By this time I was strong enough to discharge from Lakeshore & return home with my my family on October 30, 1987. My goal had been to get back home before my 18th birthday on November 11th. I was able to accomplish that. I continued to outpatient therapy until the end of the year. In January of 1988, I returned to Berry High School. The first semester had already passed while I was hospitalized. Returning to school was the thing I dreaded & feared the most. I did not want to go back. With the help & support of some really awesome friends, teachers & counselors I completed the remainder of the school year & was able to graduate with my class. I still don’t know how I did it.”
   ” But while everyone was excited about moving on, I was very anxious. I was still trying to process & adapt to the new reality & it was an uphill climb daily. I needed a break from this town & decided to go to the University of South Alabama with Scarlette McBrayer-a best friend since childhood. It was there I learned so much about life in general & was able to get away from the stigma that now seemed to follow me and best of all made some everlasting memories with some great people. We returned to Birmingham the next year & began school at UAB.”
   “I had received such a remarkable blessing from some incredible therapists during my time rehabilitating that I made the decision to make physical therapy a career. I began working as a PT aide at Shelby Medical Center. I applied & was accepted to the last year of the Physical Therapy Assistant program at UAB. After 2 years…more studying than I had ever done, too many tests to count, labs. clinicals & a state boards exam. I graduated in 1994 & went back to work at what had since become Shelby Baptist Hospital to repay my scholarship. I worked in Physical Therapy for 12 years in a variety of setting. Acute care, wound care, outpatient, home health care & finally long term care. I loved my job & felt as if I was in a sense of giving back for all those people who made my recovery possible.”
   “Over the years, I began to suffer from increased low back pain. It was tolerable in the beginning then proceeded to get worse. I went from working full time to part time, to PRN to not at all. I had to begin pain management. Prescribed synthetic morphine twice a day along with Hydrocodone for breakthrough pain. I was left with no choice except to end my career in patient care. After that I was forced to apply for Disability. I could no longer care for & treat patients when I myself had to take pain medicine. My Disability payment, denied at first, was finally awarded in 2009.”
   “Since then, I have adapted to a new normal where I have become the patient. Over the year, I have suffered multiple right ankle fractures/surgeries. My low back pain continued to worsen. I was led to an amazing pain doctor & pain psychologist. I have continued under their care for the past nearly 10 years. My pain has been controlled successfully all of this time. I owe my world to my great doctors.”
   “I met my husband Mitch O’Brien in September of 2006 & we were married the following July on 07/07/07. We live in Bluff Park.”
   “In 2013, I became a member of the Lakeshore Foundation–whose mission is to enable people with physical disability & chronic health conditions to lead more healthy, active & independent lifestyles through physical activity, sports, recreation, advocacy & research. There I have met so many incredible people–therapists, members & employees. And as fate would have it..my former PT Beth Curry is the Chief Program Officer there & we have since reunited. I couldn’t ask for a better, kinder group of people there. I feel so incredibly blessed that my life has come full circle & I have been so fortunate to have been given a second chance. I could not have asked for anything more.”
    Christie was much more than a survivor from a terrible, tragic from 30 years ago. She became a CHAMPION in the Game of Life
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