The numbers are alarming: According to AAA, there are 328,000 crashes, 109,000 injuries, and 6,400 deaths each year from drivers who fall asleep at the wheel.
Immaculata University student Hayley Tuscai is reflected in those statistics. During her senior year of high school, a time when possibilities are endless, she became one of the 109,000 people injured in a car accident.
After graduating from West Chester East High School in 2011, Hayley accompanied her boyfriend on the 16-hour drive to Michigan where he would be attending college at Northern Michigan University that fall. About three hours away from the campus, they pulled into a rest stop to sleep for a while. The next morning, they headed back out on the road. Hayley, still feeling tired, fell asleep in the passenger seat. The driver set the cruise control to 70 MPH—and also fell asleep.
“The next thing I knew, I woke up and I was in the hospital,” she recalls.
Hayley remained in the ICU for a month with a broken neck and a badly bruised lung that swelled and filled with fluid. She endured 15 bronchoscopy procedures and was put into a medically-induced coma.
When Hayley was cleared to travel back to Pennsylvania, she was admitted to a step-down care facility in West Chester for a month before she entered a three-month rehabilitation program at Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital that prepared her to finally return to her home.
“It’s safe to say that my family and friends got me through that entire thing…” she states as her voice trails off. Her mom, Sallie Tuscai, who works as a financial aid counselor at Immaculata, flew to Michigan immediately upon the news of her daughter’s accident and remained by her side. Although Hayley was always close to her mom, the bond drew closer when her father died suddenly during her senior year of high school followed by her grandfather’s death. Now, as they faced her rehabilitation, Hayley and her mom continued the emotional, spiritual, and physical healing they sought after the deaths of their loved ones.
Even as she was struggling through her own rehab, Hayley was still appreciative for what she did have while noticing less fortunate patients who were victims of strokes and brain injuries. At the rehab facility, she befriended a young man who suffered a brain injury which helped reinforce to her that her injuries could have been so much worse. Sallie agrees.
“I can talk to my daughter—and have a conversation with her—and she is the same person as she was. She still gets on my nerves and everything,” Sallie recounts with a laugh tinged with relief.
As the youngest and only daughter, Hayley also has the constant support of her three brothers, two of whom are alumni of Immaculata University (Dante and Benjamin, both from the class of 2013).
After several medical set-backs during her recovery, Hayley was finally able to settle into a routine at home when she realized that she missed school. Since attending Immaculata was her original plan after high school, Hayley registered for classes in the summer of 2012 as did her mom! Hayley will graduate from the College of LifeLong Learning in May, and Sallie earned her degree in 2015.
“We started with our history classes,” Hayley remembers. The history courses were offered online so Hayley didn’t have to travel to campus. Their third class together was Math, and the two began a friendly rivalry to see who could score the highest on quizzes.
Math came easily to Hayley, and with childhood ambitions to become a teacher, she decided to major in Math with Secondary Education. She especially enjoyed the Math for Educators class taught by Delbert Ferster, Ed.D., associate faculty in Mathematics, because it was more hands-on. Ferster showed Hayley and her classmates examples of how teachers can go the extra mile to help their students learn math.
Going the extra mile was something that both students learned to be the norm at Immaculata University.
“The College of LifeLong Learning allowed us to study and have the support and flexibility we both needed to complete our degrees,” states Sallie. She notes that Immaculata is very good at providing accommodations—by assisting students on an individual basis. Hayley hopes that she can implement some of these same values once she is in charge of a class.
In addition to her aspirations to teach Math, Hayley wants to pursue motivational speaking to educate people about the perils of drowsy driving. After hearing about Hayley’s accident, many friends have confirmed their own experiences: “I just closed my eyes for a second and drove off the road.” She does not believe that people take drowsy driving as seriously as other offenses, and she realizes that drivers often do not even think about how tired they are before getting behind the wheel. One opportunity Hayley is exploring is the Cruisin’ Smart program at Bryn Mawr Rehab that sends guest speakers into classrooms to talk about their experiences with car accidents.
Although Hayley’s accident left her a quadriplegic, she is determined to not dwell on the past. She wants to inspire other people who find themselves in similar circumstances. Her biggest challenge now is simply getting around. With the dedicated support of her aunt, Jodi, who serendipitously lost her job at the time Hayley was in need of a caregiver, Hayley found someone who is patient and dependable.
With her beautiful beaming smile, Hayley is a reminder to us all that even in tragedy, hope and persistence prevail. She knows and appreciates that it could always be much worse!