Teen shows amazing grace, grit after severe injury
Associated Press Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Breanna McMahon was just beginning her senior season and hoping to play soccer in college when the accident happened.
It was at a car-wash fundraiser for her club team in September that an SUV accidentally pinned her against a brick wall, crippling the 17-year-old and forcing the amputation of her left leg.
There’s more to the story, however, than a personal tragedy.
Former U.S. soccer star Mia Hamm called to tell “Bree” she was “my hero.” Colleges have taken up funds to help with medical bills. Strangers have sent letters wishing her well.
The outpouring is at least in part a show of admiration for Breanna, for the way she’s borne her injury. The teen still plans to attend college on a soccer scholarship – and to do everything she can to play with a prosthetic.
She also has forgiven the driver of the SUV. She is, after all, one of Breanna’s best friends.
The scene was like one that plays out every weekend across the country.
Teenagers bobbing up and down on the street corner, waving signs to draw drivers to the car wash. The fundraiser had been going well for FC America, Breanna’s club team in Orlando. Then her friend decided to wash her car.
Breanna had been standing on the street trying to get drivers to pull in for most of the day, and wanted to help give her friend’s car a rinse. She was walking backward in front of the Honda Pilot when her friend accidentally hit the gas, she said, snapping her legs like twigs against the wall.
“When the car backed up, that’s when it really it hurt,” she said. “I sort of accepted it before it happened. I knew I was going to lose at least one leg.”
Breanna screamed in pain and fell to the ground. Blood poured out on the pavement. Her friend rushed out of the car and held her head until the ambulance arrived as others scurried to blanket her with towels.
“She was just talking to me. I was like, ‘I’m not mad at you,”‘ Breanna recalled. “She was like, ‘I love you so much.’ I said, ‘I love you, too. I’m not mad. It was just a terrible accident.”‘
A message sent through the McMahon family seeking comment from the parents of the girl was not returned. The Associated Press is not naming the girl because she has not been charged in the accident and was a minor at the time.
Breanna still talks to her friend every day. Breanna’s mother, Kathleen, said their families have known each other for years and that the girl’s father is even the math teacher to her 15-year-old son, Ryan.
“I think one thing people don’t realize is that two people were injured,” Kathleen said. “Breanna may be injured physically, but the other girl suffered just as much damage.”
As word of the accident spread, many people reached out to Breanna. The attention caught her by surprise.
Hamm called and sent her an autographed ball. Minnesota Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell, an Orlando-area resident, took Breanna out to lunch with his wife during the team’s bye week and shipped her custom-made shoes with her name stitched on them.
The two are now “BFFs,” or best friends forever, Breanna joked. They text all the time and have started an ongoing game of Uno.
“My wife told me what happened, and I just felt like I had to get in touch with this girl,” Longwell said.
A few state colleges have started funds, donating the proceeds to a bank account set up in Breanna’s name. The University of North Florida women’s soccer team even took a detour to a road game to see Breanna.
“I’ve heard from people all over,” she said. “It’s crazy. I don’t really quite understand it all. I’m just trying to make the best of everything.”
At first, things looked bleak.
Breanna was in the hospital for 32 days. She had eight surgeries, and she was in a drug-induced coma for about five days for the amputation.
Her parents consider that a blessing.
They were reassured that their only daughter would live when Breanna was still texting friends in the ambulance. But each is an insurance adjuster and knew these accidents can be far more serious.
When they arrived at the hospital, doctors delivered the news they had feared.
Breanna’s blood flow had been disrupted. They were told her right leg had suffered massive nerve damage but could be rehabilitated. But she had clogged arteries in her left leg that could’ve caused kidney failure and possibly disrupt other organs if it wasn’t amputated.
“The doctor told me we have to do this or she’s going to die,” said Breanna’s father, David. “There was no question. When the doctors say it’s life or limb, you take the limb. It doesn’t make it any easier. It’s a horrible decision to have to make.”
The road to recovery won’t be easy, but Breanna is determined to reclaim her life.
She’s still weeks away from being fitted for a prosthetic and the months of training that follow. She has a physical therapist who comes to her house, where she has been doing school work until she is healthy enough to return to class.
Her principal has been working with the family to make sure Breanna graduates with her class in the spring. She does her best to visit her soccer teams and attend soccer games that her boyfriend, Shane, plays in for another high school.
There will be more plastic surgery, perhaps even more operations to repair nerve damage in her right foot. Some of the tissue is still healing on her right leg – the sight of it even caused one of her friends to faint. Breanna laughed.
When it comes to sports, Breanna still wants to put in extra work.
She has had a personal trainer for about four years and didn’t want to stop. So the trainer, Andre Williams, owner of Core Speed and Agility Training in Orlando, has put in more time with Breanna outside of her normal therapy.
The two are doing mostly light upper-body exercises using small weights. Williams is trying to get her forearms strong again, get her heart rate up and get her weight back to normal – she lost so many pounds, and had such a loss of appetite, that doctors declared her medically anorexic – by loading up on protein.
Breanna still holds the record at the facility for the longest V-Sit, an abdominal workout position that is difficult for most to hold for seconds. She was timed at more than 24 minutes.
“We used to call her the beast,” Williams said. “She will be again.”
The two have set a goal they believe is reachable: have Breanna in college next year. Then, some time in the next 18 to 24 months, have her playing some form of soccer.
She was offered scholarships before the accident to Brevard College in North Carolina and Brewton-Parker College in Georgia. The soccer coaches at both schools said they will still honor the scholarships.
So Breanna holds out hope that maybe, just maybe, one day she will get to fulfill her dream and play college soccer.
She points to the light blue band on her left wrist for her own inspiration. The words inscribed on it read: “Faith. Love. Strength. Bree.”