A ‘miraculous’ turnaround

By on January 2, 2019

“No! Don’t leave me for dead! I’m still alive!” Tonya silently screamed to her drug ‘friends’ as they walked out and left her laying on her cold, tile apartment floor in Quarryville, to die.

“No! Don’t leave me for dead! I’m alive in here!” Tonya silently screamed as the doctors searched for a nursing home to transfer her to die in.

Tonya’s story began like many other addiction stories. She broke her jaw and was prescribed Vicodin and Percocet when she was 21. When her doctors stopped prescribing them, she turned to the streets. After they weren’t getting her the desired high, she moved on to Oxycontin.

When that wasn’t enough, she decided to try heroin, but only one time. She never thought she’d be hooked on heroin after using it once, but she did.

On Jan. 1, 2012, her New Year’s Day plans went terribly wrong. After her drug “friends” had walked out on her she laid motionless on the cold floor for three days. Wearing the same pink shirt and tattered jeans, the maintenance man found her after her family reported her unanswered texts and calls.

As the medics and her family arrived, she had turned blue and was frothing foam from her mouth while covered in her own feces and urine. Her sister noticed a large amount of blood on her jeans and wanted to quickly change them for her but there was too much blood saturating them.

Tonya, recovering in the hospital, said her family and her care nurse, Adriane, saw “hope and light, despite all the darkness.”

As oxygen was delivered, she opened her eyes, staring at her sister. Wanting to thank her for getting rid of the drugs that Tonya had hidden on top of the mirror and in her closet, Tonya realized she couldn’t talk. She couldn’t move.

She had no weight, no inertia, no worry, nothing. Tonya drifted into a deep coma where she remained for 31 days. Unresponsive, she was on a breathing machine, had a tracheostomy inserted and was fed through her veins. Her brain scan revealed total white matter and she was deemed to either die or be a “vegetable” forever. The human brain is fragile. There are layers of consciousness to wade through. Massive quantities of drugs and alcohol in your system disrupts neuron functions.

The depth of human relationships is determined largely by communication.

Tonya couldn’t communicate. But she could pray.

Tonya’s life today is very different, it’s filled with contentment, gratefulness and happiness. Tonya, right, with Adriane, the nurse who was convinced Tonya would come out of her coma cause by 2012 New Year’s Day overdose.

While delirious and powerless, only in darkness could she see stars. She saw a Christmas tree through a gap in the yellow curtains.
She saw a graveyard with all the tombstones askew. There were angels and demons.

Flashes of light blinded her by the doctors and nurses using their pen lights to gauge her reactions, or lack of. She knew that her family was there but why didn’t they stop Santa from coming in and taking her nachos!

She heard every word that was said. It was like looking at things through a stained-glass window. Her family and friends started a Facebook page, “Tonya Prayer Page,” where they posted prayers, positive thoughts, and well wishes.

After weeks of her being unresponsive, laying in what she felt was a horrid green gown, the doctors started searching for a nursing home to place her in to die.
Again, she silently screamed, “NO! I’m in here! Please help me!”

During these long weeks, one nurse, Adriane, had noticed that after she moistened Tonya’s lips, Tonya would continue licking them. Adriane started asking her to stick her tongue out if she wanted her lips moistened.

Whenever Adriane walked in the room Tonya would lick her lips. One day, with her mother by her since day one, Tonya stuck her tongue out when the nurse walked in! Adriane asked her to do it again and she did! Her mother mentioned that she had been pushing her pulse ox off her finger, too. Rushing to the medical team to proclaim the great news and beg for a rehab rather than a nursing home, the nurse was shot down again. It was a reflex reaction, they said. Nothing more. Despite their responses, Adriane began searching on her own for a rehab. Not one, in and outside of Pennsylvania, would even come and evaluate her. After endless days of begging, one rehab finally said yes.

Doctors described Tonya’s drug recovery story as a miracle. However, she notes, Not all stories have “miracle endings.”

When she was told the news, Tonya came alive! She opened her eyes and squeezed hands. Finally, the ventilator and sedation came off. Tonya’s mom and Adriane were in the room when she woke up. She smiled! Then she said, “I want a cherry slushy.” Her mother introduced her to her nurse. But Tonya already knew her. She had been inside her the entire time.

Adriane wrote “Tonya knew who I was. I had refused to give up on her. Tonya’s story is NOT medically explainable. It’s nothing short of a miracle.

She really should have died. God spared her life as she has so much more to do here.

I refused to believe, as I turned her limp body, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, that there was no one in there. I saw a perfectly made body in that bed. One formed by God in His perfect image. He had plans for her.”

Tonya entered rehab and with much determination and hard work she was able to transfer to a wheel chair. Using a walker, she attempted walking down a hallway which was bizarrely hard considering she needed to use so much of her brain and muscles.

The hallway seemed endless, filled with arduous obstacles, but she made it! After moving to a relatively normal apartment in Ephrata, this miracle child gave birth to her son, her miracle boy. She continues therapy twice a week now, using a cane or walker.

Her goal is to walk again, normally. She’s an amazing mother to an amazing son. While crises of faith are sometimes inevitable, after entering her recovery, seven years ago, Tonya never experienced one. Her faith is strong. As she patiently watched with glistened eyes, God worked miracles through her.

With His infinite goodness and patience, the mountains gradually emerged from the ground.

Hope is a waking dream. Don’t stop in your storm. Tonya, her family and Adriane all saw hope and light, despite all the darkness. Faith and wisdom had taught them to remain patient. Tonya’s life today is very different, it’s filled with contentment, gratefulness and happiness.

However, she still harbors some wants. She wants to return to the ICU and see her nurses. She wants to show her doctors how far she’s come.

Silently, she wants to scream “I told you so!”

While Tonya is truly a miracle, she wants others to listen as she silently screams “Don’t do drugs! Not all stories have miracle endings.”

Tonya’s story is written by Janice Ballenger who works at Retreat at Lancaster County, a 175-bed inpatient facility in Ephrata for addiction treatment. She has a burning passion to raise awareness to addiction, while offering hope to the families and friends of those in recovery. 

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