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Brittany’s Story

On Monday, June 11, at 8:40 PM, Brittany O'Brien Gunnell was in a terrible accident. She was hit by an SUV while riding her bike home from "Annie" Musical rehearsal and thrown to the asphalt in the middle of the street. She suffered massive head injuries, and was rescued by her mother and little sister, Brennan, at the scene of the accident. She was taken by ambulance to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, and after being admitted to the ER, she was admitted to the ICU Neurotrauma Center. 

Latest Journal Update


Day 55, Saturday, August 4, 2012, 12 noon, Brittany Gunnell’s Recovery Los Angeles, CA, USA:

It has been two weeks since Brittany came home from the hospital! As many of you have been calling and texting and wondering about Brittany’s recovery thus far, I have begged Brittany to allow me to write an update! She finally said ‘yes!’

Since we arrived home, she wanted to keep things quiet and private, and despite my sharing with her that there are many thousands of people around the world praying for her, she feels uncomfortable with all the attention she received during her stay at UCLA after her Traumatic Brain Injury, (TBI) which is what all the doctors label it. 

The kids have a new name for all of the attention she gets from friends, family, neighbors, and community well-wishers in the community that she has not met, “the paparazzi.” It has truly been a beautiful thing to see so many people supporting, but it was blinding to Britt to see how much attention she was getting from so many directions, and we had to just focus on her private healing.

The past two weeks have busy at home, taking care of all of Brittany’s needs while also balancing time with my other motherly responsibilities, mostly for Brennan who has gotten the hard end of the bargain this summer! Brennan still has piles of gifts and cards from her wonderful birthday celebration at Maddie’s Room at the hospital. We have gone through them slowly over the past two weeks to enjoy all the cards (which I have now read for the first time this week), and the gifts, which she has torn into since the Surprise Party at UCLA on June 23rd. Those days in June seem like distant memories, as so much was happening all at once, and I wasn’t sleeping much. It’s all a blur, and I am so glad for the notes I managed to write in the ICU so I can remember it all later, and share it with Brittany at the appropriate time.

The good news is that when Brittany sleeps, I sleep, and that is an average of over 12 hours a day with naps. We are catching up on sleep together as she heals…but I still have a lot of catching up to do--with sleep, our home, and my businesses.

Now that things have settled down, Brittany has asked many questions about what happened. It is very difficult for me to drive back and forth, many times a day, right at the exact spot of 77th Street and Emerson Avenue, where the accident happened. It is such a habit to drive that way, as the direct route to everywhere in our community. For those of you out of town, the accident occurred just 3 blocks from my home. 

As I often found a different way to drive, avoiding that street, Brennan would be in the back seat saying, “Mom, I can tell you are driving a different way today. Why? I bet IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII know.” And I would reply, “Yes, sometimes I just like to go a different way now. It’s really hard for me to drive by there because it always reminds me of when we found Brittany in the street that night.” And then she says, “Well, Mom, you always taught me that you have to FACE YOUR FEARS. You will have to just face your fear and DO IT! You gotta start driving that way some time.” And I would say, OK, but that’s different. Not today. And this would happen over and over…so I finally just started driving that way again. She was right. It got easier over time.

Now that Brittany has been in the car with me on the way to Doctors appointments, we have to drive by the same way…so, we go by the scene often. For the first week she didn’t ask about it, and I didn’t bring it up. Now, each time we drive by, we note the time of day or night, the sun, and we discuss what happened from my memory, as her memory of June 11th stops just before the accident, and her first memories are fuzzy during her last hours in the ICU. She is OK talking about it and wants to. I think it’s a good step. The good news, and the MIRACLE, is that other than that, her memory and cognitive abilities are GREAT. We are so blessed! So thrilled with her recovery so far.

No matter WHERE we drive, all of us comment and notice when ANYONE is not wearing a helmet while on their bicycles.

Brittany and I wanted to share that we are continually grateful for all of your prayers. We had "bad news" this week at her two week post-discharge check up with her neurosurgeon. They had originally said maybe 1-3 months from the accident for the next surgery to replace her right skull. However, with the recent examination, the doctor noted that CT Scans show that her brain swelling has not gone down enough to do the surgery yet. In fact, the brain doesn’t seem to be shrinking much at all, which makes it an extremely difficult and complex surgery to replace her skull. We have to wait at LEAST two more months for another CT Scan, and hope that the swelling of her brain decreases. 

If the brain does not shrink in size, the neurosurgeon will have to do a lot of ‘magic tricks in the OR’ whenever he replaces her skull.

We don’t want to have to rely on MAGIC in the operating room!

You have all continued to ask how you can help! Thank you! All of us PRAYER WARRIORS need to continue on our mission to pray for Brittany’s full recovery, and right now, pray that her brain SHRINKS back to normal. Her GI tube scar and her trach scar are continuing to heal with diligent home care. Her physical therapy and her occupational therapy are moving along as planned and she is doing well with walking and moving her arms. Her speech therapist and all of her doctors continue to be shocked by her recovery thus far. 

She is truly a MIRACLE, although she doesn’t like us to refer to her as a miracle.

The most difficult challenge ahead will be that she has to protect her head with the helmet at all times, only taking it off to sleep and shower, for at least another 2+ months. At those times, I am right at her side to keep a very close eye on her. Her friends have been an incredible source of support as well, and she wishes she had more time for the many friends that continue to reach out to her. However, she needs to focus on rest and recovery FIRST!

Thank you again for all of your prayers for Brittany and our family. She wanted to thank you all, and she posted this note on her Facebook on July 28th:

“I just want to say thank you to everyone who has been there for me this past month or so. I've never been comfortable with being the center of attention or anything similar to it. However, I am grateful for all of your prayers, your kind words, and your thoughts. You remind me of the simple beauty of human connection.”

So there you have it from Brittany! 

We know that our prayers have been heard thus far, and we have no doubt that the symphony of prayers for Brittany’s recovery will continue to be heard by our Lord, Jesus Christ, who has blessed us so beautifully! Praising the Lord for his grace and his mercy in Brittany’s life, especially the incredibly BRIGHT FUTURE that she cannot yet visualize. I keep reminding her that it is just around the corner, and that she will be able to do ANYTHING in the world that she wants to do!

Have a wonderful week!

Love, Denise, Brittany, Evan and Brennan