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NEW DIRECTION: Tragedy Changes Woman’s Life

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A car accident changes the lives of the victims and their family members in an instant. For one young woman, a car crash meant making a major decision that’s changing the lives of others.

Elizabeth Johnson doesn’t just check blood pressure, temperature and pulse. She asks a person served at On With Life, “Are you having any pain? I'm going to check you over quick?"

Like many nurses, she also listens and remembers. She asks, "Have you been watching The Voice lately? I know that was your favorite show."

But, this RN has experience that doesn’t fit on any resume. She says, "It was really neat. A few weeks ago, I got to see a dad talk for the first time and see his wife and daughter see that. It was really neat because I remember what it felt like for me."

Johnson didn’t always want to be a nurse. She graduated college with a Veterinary Technician degree. But, in March of 2009, her life changed direction. She says, "My family was traveling to see me for my birthday. It was my mom and my grandma and my dad and my brother."

The family was headed south on Highway 69 near Blairsburg when the road suddenly got slick. Johnson says, "They were in an accident and my mom and my Grandma both passed away instantly from their injuries. And my dad and brother both suffered traumatic brain injuries from the car accident."

Both her dad and brother spent time in the intensive care unit at Iowa Methodist Medical Center. Then, they were transferred to On With Life in Ankeny. Johnson says, "It was really scary not knowing what was going to happen with them. But, through the course of it all, we had really good nurses that took care of my family."

Her brother spent about seven months at the rehabilitation facility. Her dad left after a couple months. Johnson started pursuing her nursing degree about a year later. She says, "And, I graduated this April."

Johnson now works at both places where she learned what it’s like for families. She’s a nurse in the ICU at Iowa Methodist full time. And, she fills in at On With Life when needed. Director of Therapy Dave Anders says, "She's been through it. She's been down the road and she has some insights that those of us who haven't experienced a loved one or a brain injury, we just don't have."

Anders says her insight is invaluable because she knows what it’s like to be in a caregiver’s chair. David Chumbley, the husband of a person served, says, "Everyone else is wonderful you know, but they still don't know what it's like to be me, you know?"

And, Johnson knows what can happen with time and hard work. She says, "My dad is doing really good. He still farms and works at the post office. My brother, he's taking some classes at college and he just got his own apartment."

As for Johnson, she has multiple degrees, including her newest that would make her mom, a former nurse, especially proud. She says, "I think she would be really proud. She would."

Johnson’s dad and brother live in northern Iowa. Elizabeth recently served on a panel at a brain injury conference to help give professionals an idea of what it’s like for families to support loved ones with brain injuries.