Ashlyn Papajohn
Shelby County
Not Feature Story
When I was 13 years old, I was with a group of friends at a local parade near Huntsville, Ala. Several of us were riding four-wheelers without helmets, which was not out of the ordinary. The last thing I can remember from that day was an older friend warning us, “You should put a helmet on before you get hurt!”

If only I had listened. From what I have been told, my friend driving the four-wheeler hit a landscaping timber in a yard. This catapulted me off the back seat approximately 7 feet in the air and into a tree. I hit the tree with the right side of my face and was immediately knocked unconscious. MedFlight was called and my family and friends thought I wasn’t going to make it. I was told later that I coded in the helicopter ride, but they were able to revive me. I ended up in the Intensive Care Unit for four days with two head fractures, memory loss and a black eye so big that I looked like I fought Mike Tyson! I remember not knowing what was going on and the fear in my parents’ eyes. I can’t imagine going through what they did when I have children of my own.

Fast forward 10 years to March 2012. Other than experiencing headaches for a year after the accident, I hadn’t had any sort of complications until I began to hear a ringing sound in my right ear and couldn’t hear as well. I went to my ENT expecting to leave with a drained ear and the ringing sound gone. Unfortunately, after several visits, my doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with my ear except that I had profound hearing loss and had less than 1 percent change of regaining it. As he questioned me about past trauma, it became apparent that my accident 10 years ago was the root of the problem. Now I have to wear a hearing aid everyday because I didn’t wear a helmet when I was 13 years old. This is a mistake I would love to help prevent other kids from making.

When I was young, I felt invincible. When you’re that age, it’s hard to realize that these types of incidents can happen and that it can affect you for the rest of your life. My hope is that I can share my story, teach the importance of helmet safety and hopefully help prevent an accident from happening to another child as it did to me.