A South Surrey woman who overcame long odds – and spent three months in a coma after being involved in a horrific car crash – has been named the latest recipient of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Honorary Alumna Award.
In 2007, a then-18-year-old Harriet Ronaghan, recently graduated from Elgin Park Secondary, was preparing to start classes at KPU when she, along with her mom and brother, were in their car when it was hit by a dump truck.
The crash left Ronaghan with a traumatic brain injury and required emergency surgery which came with just a five per cent chance of survival.
The recovery was a gruelling process, she noted.
“I had to relearn everything – to stand up, walking, talking.”
After 10 months spent in hospital relearning basic motor skills, she was sent home in a wheelchair, although she only ever used it three times.
Ronaghan wrote a book about her recovery experience, You Are My Sunshine: The Journey Through My Recovery of a Traumatic Brain Injury, which was a logical extension of the notes she was already taking as she documented her thoughts and feelings as a way to help process all that she had gone through.
She was inspired to write the book after a return visit to Royal Columbian Hospital, where she met the father of a teenager who had been in a motorcycle accident and, like Ronaghan had been, was in a coma.
“The way he thanked me and called his wife right away and told her about me – that was the moment I decided I needed to write a book. The accident was awful, but my story can help people,” she said in a KPU news release.
“Harriet is the epitome of the word Kwantlen, which means ‘tireless runner’,” said Dr. Alan Davis, president and vice-chancellor of KPU.
“She has shown that despite the adversities she’s had to face and overcome, her determination and strength has prevailed. We are proud that the KPU Alumni Association has named her an Honorary Alumna.”
Ronaghan has now recovered, but her journey is not yet over. She has a different walking gait than she once did, and her speech is slower. As well, she becomes fatigued easily.
“At the beginning, I thought I was going back to school to pursue my writing, but I realized after years of recovery and therapies that I can’t do that,” she said.
“My fatigue is too severe and that’s something I’ve had to come to terms with.”
Ronaghan, who is married and has one son – with another child on the way – has been sharing her story with others at rehabilitation centres, and in 2019 she was the recipient of the Coast Mental Health Courage to Come Back Award.
“We are so proud to confer Harriet with an Honorary Alumni award and by so doing welcome her into our KPU alumni family. Her story of strength and tenacity in the face of great adversity is certainly an inspiration to students, alumni and the whole KPU community,” said David Dryden, chair of the KPU Alumni Association.