They say the hardest fought victories are the best.
It may be true.
Last month when Paige Raque walked across the stage at the University of Kentucky to receive her master’s degree in speech therapy, it was another step on a six-year journey that had no guarantees.
In October 2012, Paige fought for her life after a fall from a fifth-floor window on the campus of Pennsylvania State University, where she was a student. She does not remember lying on the ground with a shattered pelvis and vertebrae, cracked ribs and a traumatic brain injury.
As Paige lay comatose in the hospital, doctors warned her parents, Southeast Christian Church members Tom and Robyn Raque, that she could be in a vegetative state for life. They held each other through horrible days that are still difficult to relive.
Paige’s brother Parker mobilized thousands at Southeast Christian Church, Penn State, friends and family around the world to pray through the hashtag #prayforpaige.
Paige, now 25, has no memory of 21 days in a coma or waking up. It was hard to see Paige behind glazed-over eyes that didn’t seem to comprehend.
A strong athlete since childhood and a Nittany Lions cheerleader, Paige could not stand, walk or speak. Nerves in her feet were so raw that the slight rush of air as someone passed her bed created excruciating waves of pain.
In those days, it was impossible to predict how the next chapter would unfold. “It was so hard,” Tom said. “It was a difficult test of faith. At first, we had no idea day to day if she would survive, then we had no idea how she would be.”
Amid all that disappeared from Paige’s memory, she does remember wanting her life back.
“I wanted my muscles back, my strength and my brain back,” Paige said. “The first year of my recovery, I asked the, ‘Why me?’ question, but then I switched focus to ‘What is God’s plan in this?’ I’m alive because of Him. I knew I had to do something with that.”
A month after the fall, an afternoon in speech therapy revolved around a pretend game show. As the therapist held a microphone to Paige’s mouth, something clicked and she said, “Hi, I’m Paige.”
She had found her voice, and the Raques rejoiced. Nine months after the fall, Paige got her driver’s license back. In a timeline that some call a miracle, Paige returned to classes at Penn State a year after the fall.
As Paige changed, so did her goals.
“My speech therapists made the biggest difference to start talking, reading, feeding myself, preparing me to go back to school, giving me a voice,” Paige said. “Speech therapy taught my brain to work again. After going through that fall, I wanted to do that for others. I felt from the beginning that I had to do something with what I’d been through—that God blessed me with the opportunity to help others.”
Paige switched her major at Penn State to speech therapy.
She discovered missing pieces of her own recovery while writing a research paper on her journey through traumatic brain injury and reading Robyn’s journal detailing harrowing days—the prayer and doubt, fear, worry and answered prayer.
“I saw how hard it was for my family,” Paige said. “I saw pictures of me in the coma. I remembered some of the fear when I couldn’t wrap my head around what happened. That’s why I want to work with others who have brain injuries. I want to give them hope.”
Soon Paige will begin working with adults who have special needs at Cedar Lake Lodge. She has glimpsed the power of her story.
As Paige worked with a patient struggling to recover from a stroke, a man frustrated by slow progress, she told him a little of her story: months in a wheelchair, relearning how to walk and talk, years of therapy and celebrating small victories.
And that gave hope.
“I see the ability to impact others and how they light up when they know I’ve been through traumatic brain injury,” she said. “In rehab you get to spend time with people, to know them, love them and equip them to get out into the community. That’s what I want to do.”