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Sudden Impact

Chris Hartlove

Sudden Impact (continued)

Black has already sensed the good that can come out of sharing something so awful.

Sitting across from him is 19-year-old Nicole Lawrence, a Penn State University student who nearly lost her life last November when the car she was riding in with four other students was struck by a speeding vehicle near campus. The accident ejected one young woman from the car; Lawrence was pinned in the car for nearly a half hour, all the time tending to her unconscious friend who lay at her side. That friend would later die, and Lawrence struggles to this day over why she somehow survived, despite being seated directly at the point of impact. Black visited Lawrence while she was in Shock Trauma.

Looking her in the eye now, he tells the room, “I did go see Nicole in November. I remember you had a really good attitude. I remember thinking when I saw her, she’s going to be fine. She was really upbeat when I saw her. You can tell the people that are going to be fine within a couple of minutes of talking to them.”

He was right: Despite her ongoing struggles with PTSD and reconstructive surgeries, Lawrence returned to Penn State in just over two months. Doctors told her she might not make it, but Nicole Lawrence was in class eight weeks later. “Here were doctors telling me eight weeks before that I might not make it, and here I was eight weeks later in class,” she tells Black and the others with tears in her eyes. “That was a miracle.”

 It’s those little miracles that have given Black faith—both in himself and others. In the 18 months since his wreck, he’s worked his way from wheelchair, to walker, to cane, to a 28-year-old’s familiar “What, me worry?” gait. Along the way, supportive medical professionals changed his world view. “When you go through trauma, so many people have to help you to get you back to where you are. Countless numbers,” he tells the group. “Before this happened to me, I was doing music, maybe it was the type of people you deal with in the entertainment business, but you get so cynical and bitter that everyone’s in it for themselves. I had no faith in people. But after this, I saw there really were good people, all the doctors and nurses and therapists. I wanted to be like that.”

In the TSN peer program that MacKenzie helped develop, Black has found his outlet, a way to bond with others and take fear out of an incredibly frightful journey. While music will always be a part of his life—he continues as a songwriter, even penning a few songs relating to his accident—he’s thinking about a career of helping others thrive after trauma, perhaps as a recovery coach or a social worker. “This is like a first step for me,” he says. “I would really have liked to have someone who had been through everything helping me to know what to expect. It’s an awesome idea.”


Ryan Major is thriving as well, though he’s

had to climb his own personal Everest to get to where he is now. The four years since he first arrived at Walter Reed have been nothing short of a rebirth, a gradual reawakening of self-confidence that there can be a worthwhile life even after the worst trauma.

Like JR Black, Ryan Major, now a retired staff sergeant, found comfort in those he could identify with, in his case, fellow soldier amputees who moved forward with their lives. It wasn’t so much their words as their deeds that inspired him. A fish in the water before his injuries, Major resisted a Walter Reed therapist’s attempts to get him into a pool. “I was like, ‘I can’t do it.’ I couldn’t believe, in my situation, that I would be able to swim again,” says Major, who lives with his mother in Silver Spring, Maryland. The therapist then introduced him to “Jack,” whose name has been changed to protect his privacy. Jack had lost both his legs above the knees in Iraq. Now a triathlete, Jack displayed fluid movements in the water that astonished Major. “I saw him in the pool and he looked fantastic. I figured that, if he had been in the same situation I was in and could do it, then why don’t I just give it a shot? What the therapist told me, that I could swim, and which I totally denied… Jack showed me that they were right.”

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Thriving Post-Trauma

Thriving Post-Trauma

Trauma survivor Ryan Major and researcher Ellen MacKenzie explore the personal and scientific sides of injury recovery.

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