Inspired by her angels, Hannah Strom is already strategizing on how to pay it forward. “I want to help people just like people helped me,” she told The Wanderer last week, only days after taking the giant step of a Sunday run from Island Wharf along Front Street past Pitcher Street where she lives and on down to Silvershell Beach, where she was greeted by her father Tom Strom bearing a golden doodle puppy named Ruthie.
The surprise at the finish line capped a very gratifying event for Hannah, her family, and all those who supported her.
“Those who ran with her were perfect to run with her; those are just some of her angels. That Abigail never gave up, she would write things down on Hannah,” said Hannah’s mother, Gail Theresa Matoes-Strom. “We’ve had all these sort of angels help Hannah. I called them ‘the running dream team.’ All of them wanted to run with her, especially her very first therapist…. I was really touched by that.”
Abigail Spaulding, that “very first therapist” whose last name is coincidental to her employment with Spaulding Rehabilitation in Charlestown, was present for Hannah’s first step and first time out of bed. Secured by a body harness, Hannah wasn’t able to hold her head up, according to Gail. “[Abigail) had to hold her up so many times, then she had to take her upstairs,” she said. “Each week, Hannah would get just a little bit better. [Abigail] actually saved Hannah in a lot of ways.”
Even amidst the coronavirus pandemic, few could ever understand how long 2020 has been for Hannah Strom, whose ordeal began on January 15 when the van she was riding in with her Holy Cross rowing teammates collided with a pickup truck in Vero Beach, Florida, taking the life of teammate Grace Rett and inflicting severe injuries on several others.
Her lengthy and complicated road back began in a Florida hospital and saw her continue to rehab at Massachusetts General Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. On June 3, she returned home with a police escort and was cheered as she passed through the Tabor Academy campus and Marion village.
Hannah finished first in her class at Tabor, and among her December 13 running mates was Meredith Finch, Hannah’s rowing coach and academic advisor for her senior year at Tabor.
“I’m really happy to have the opportunity to coach and work with Hannah back when she was at Tabor and all through this. She’s an amazing athlete and a really hard worker,” said Finch.
Finch, as she is known around campus, went several times to see Hannah in the intensive care unit “and would sit in on some of her sessions so they’re close,” said Gail.
Hannah’s lengthy, in-patient stint at Spaulding concluded with an eight-week program called the “The Disorders of Consciousness.” The program was nearing completion when the therapists wanted Hannah to extend “because they felt they could do more wonderful things with her,” according to Gail.
“During the two weeks that the program was extended, miracles started happening.”
Hannah went from “You’re going home with a feeding tube” and “She’ll need this, she’ll need that— little by little— to eating normally,” said Gail. “I just envisioned that 100 percent I was getting my daughter back.”
Hannah was put on a calorie count, and a week before going home, the feeding tube came out. She was given a wheelchair to use at home, but when she got home, she didn’t want to use it. “I’m 19; I shouldn’t have to use a wheelchair,” said Gail, recalling Hannah’s words.
Therapy progressed after Hannah got home to Marion. She has been working once a week with Cheryl Langlais of Seaside Physical Therapy on Front Street while continuing twice-weekly visits to Spaulding’s center in Sandwich. Since July, she has made weekly visits to see Lynn Carlson at Acton-based ChiroPro. Her therapists give her work to do at home, too.
Hannah does some of that with her 16-year-old brother David, a junior at Tabor, who shares Hannah’s passion for rowing and is a member of the Seawolves’ crew team. David ran alongside his sister and has been mature beyond his years.
“He’s been really strong; he was only 15 when the accident happened,” recalled Gail, who anticipates returning soon to her job at Verizon. “Out of that entire time, I only came home two days to get clothes for her— they want you to wear regular clothes for physical therapy— and some appointments. Both times my sister stayed with her … for three months, I didn’t leave the seventh floor. He would always tell me, ‘I know you’re where you need to be.’ He’s been my rock.”
Her magnificent strides notwithstanding, Hannah struggles to hear. “It’s a very rare thing to happen, we are told,” said Gail. “Her ears are fine, but when the sound goes in, for us, it goes up and around to the other side of the brain, but for her, it doesn’t happen.”
Because Hannah is only 20 years old and her brain is not finished developing, the family is encouraged that she will find a new neural pathway to process sounds. She remains undeterred and anticipates a return to Holy Cross in 2021.
“I’m a psychology major, and I didn’t know what I want to do,” Hannah said, thinking back to her life before the accident. Thanks to the impression her “angels” have left on her, she knows now. “I hopefully want to go to graduate school for physical therapy. I want to help people just like people helped me.”
Grace Rett’s father, Chris Rett, was interviewed last weekend on 98.5 The Sports Hub, where he told hosts Jim Murray and Chris Gasper about the building of a new gymnasium named the GRACE Center, an acronym for the Grace Rett Athletic Complex and Education center, on the campus of Our Lady of the Valley Regional School in Uxbridge, where Grace Rett attended. For more information, visit gracetothefinish.com.
By Mick Colageo