When a hit-and-run accident left her young daughter, Rayna, critically injured, Sonica Arya was determined to get her back on her feet. This is the story of how Sonica paved a way to a new life not just for Rayna but also for the many TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) cases in India. Sonica shares with us, in her own words, her journey of going from despair to optimism, because as she says, “Till there’s life, there’s hope.”
“I still remember that fateful afternoon, five years ago, when I got a call that my 12-year-old daughter, Rayna, had been seriously hurt in a car accident on the Mumbai-Pune expressway (the driver had fled the scene). That was when the smooth tenor of our life was completely torn apart and my faith severely tested.
Life, till then, had been really good. To celebrate the fact that they were now pre-teens, I’d taken Rayna and her younger sibling, Myrra, for a vacation in Europe. They were two perfectly beautiful children. I was planning to put in greater focus towards my own career as an architect since the girls were grown up and fairly independent now. My husband and I were quite aware of the privileges we enjoyed. We felt deeply about giving back, so, in our small limited way we helped as much as we could: our children celebrated their birthdays with the children of the Salaam Bombay Foundation; we donated money.
Rayna was active and sporty and an achiever of sorts. Back in Europe, within 7 days she was already skiing on the black slopes. She was an accomplished Kathak dancer and a beautiful skater; it was a treat to hear her play the piano or watch the skillful way she rode a horse.
We loved traveling and often went together on family trips.
Faith was a way of life
My mother deeply believed in God and the temple at our home was almost like a living God. It was an important part of my own life: 30 to 45 minutes of my mornings were devoted to my prayers. In search of a deeper meaning I would travel to all those age-old places of worship which India abounds in. It used to be a standing joke between my friends that Sonica has suddenly left for yet another of her ‘trips’.
A hit-and-run accident that disrupted our life
I was in Mumbai though, when I got that devastating call that Rayna had been grievously injured in a car accident. No ambulances were available in Khandala or even Lonavala, so she was being brought to Mumbai in an ambulance from Panvel.
My heart clenched with fear but hoping for the best, my husband and I rushed from Mumbai and met the ambulance at Vashi from where we took her to the Breach Candy hospital. Through a friend in the Police we got the permission to bypass traffic signals but even then, it was quite late. Though they had put her on a ventilator, the delay in oxygen reaching the brain had caused immense damage. This could have been easily prevented if Rayna had been given proper aid within the ‘Golden Hour’ of the accident. At the hospital, they told us that Rayna had gone into a coma.
A school trip that went completely wrong
We had a lot of questions: Rayna was on a school trip. Why were she and the other children on the Highway? Where were the teachers? Why was there no first-aid available? Why are there no ambulances on the prone-to-accidents spots on the expressway?
But we had to keep them on hold because our first priority was getting Rayna back. Here she lay, comatose, unresponsive even as wires connected her to machines that kept her breathing.
It made us realize how precious and miraculous human life is. And how cheaply we let it go. I realized that if you don’t stand up and fight for whatever has happened it will continue, without making a difference to anybody.
Getting prayers answered
And so, I took it up when I prayed for Rayna. This became an obsession. I was summoning all the energies in the Universe to help her, to give her the strength to pull out of that coma. I was praying for 15-16 hours in a day. People told me to pray and say things like “Do what is best for her.”
Sorry, but no! I said I want her back whole and I want her back home. I prayed, “Use me as your instrument from now on, in any way you feel I have to serve humanity, give me the permission but I want my daughter back whole.”
I had this zidd, this stubbornness, that I want her back
After five and a half months, Rayna woke up. She could only blink. For a year, we fed her through the nose and then through the stomach. She couldn’t walk or do anything by herself. She used to communicate through a program on an iPad where she would write on it and it would speak back. We had to teach her how to speak again, and even to eat again.
A lot of the rehab had to be done abroad since such facilities were not available in India. At the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, where Rayna was their first international patient, we saw others who had been severely injured in the Boston Marathon bombing. This made us realize that we are never alone in our suffering.
Neuroplasticity can make even half a brain work again
Later, we took Rayna to The Feuerstein Institute in Israel, which specializes in Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and is doing path-breaking research in Neuroplasticity. It amazed us to see how each life is so precious for them. We met a person, a Commando, with half portion of his brain blown away. He was being taught how to think again and to do everything by himself. They don’t give up on anyone. It was a huge lesson for me and reinforced my faith to not give up on my daughter who was putting up such a fight against her condition.
The caretakers need care too
Three years after the accident I felt depleted. The initial adrenaline rush and my willpower had kept me going: managing Rayna physically, her medical situation and rehab as well as going back to school with her. My body and mind had been on alert mode for too long. I was trying to be brave for everyone. But it had taken its toll and I was exhausted. I woke up mornings, sweating, with dreams of that call informing me of Rayna’s accident. I sought refuge in Past Life Regression Therapy with Dr. Newton, EFT, chanting. I meditated and studied Vedanta, did an e-journaling course.
I realized I needed to let go. When our head, heart and hand are in sync, we are in sync with the Universe. We need to take care of ourselves and let the Universe do its work. It has also helped me to not be bitter. My husband and my daughter Myrra would often get angry with God for what happened with Rayna.
But in that too we can know God. We blame or praise Him according to our experiences of Life but I have to come to believe He is Pure Consciousness. He is the Grace He bestows upon us.
And this has been revealed to us in so many ways: in help reaching us at unexpected times through unexpected people, meeting the right doctors/treatment when we needed it most and even prayer groups I was not even aware of (I once received a global prayer chain message on the phone that said: add your name and pass it on for Rayna Arya), friends in Italy lighting candles for her in Church, bringing amrit from the Golden Temple and giving an ardaas there, getting the zam zam waters…it was all coming to my daughter.
Championing TBI rehabs
Through all this, I always made sure that whatever rehab efforts we provided for Rayna we shared it with others. Rehabilitation is a must after any brain injury. As champions for the cause of hit-and-run accidents, we are working closely with Harkisan Das Hospital’s Rehab division and support group, where Rayna goes for her physiotherapy.
We’ve shared The Feuerstein Institute’s Trained Team that works with Rayna, with the Maharashtra Dyslexic Association and Sadhana School. They’ve trained the teachers at the Cathedral and John Connon School for Level 1 of the Enrichment programs.
Disability creates invisibility
India is the brain injury capital of the world. We have very good doctors but even the neurologists have very limited knowledge of the rehab efforts needed. Even in routine life, the disabled / injured cannot travel easily for lack of facilities. They become invisible. This is frustrating for both the patient and the caregiver. Even in the case of children, we are working towards getting international norms being put into place, in situations such as crossing the road, guidelines to be followed by schools taking kids on trips and so on.
The message – “We don’t give up!”
One never recovers fully from a brain injury. Managing it is an ongoing process for the rest of your life.
We live with the motto “ We don’t give up”. Rayna paints today and has held exhibitions. I take her abroad on holidays, as navigation there is much easier. I even took her skiing. She lay on the ski slopes and quickly made a snow fairy. Till there’s life, there’s hope. One day at a time.”