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Hannah Boulware / Photo from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Hannah Boulware doesn't remember the seizure. She doesn't remember tumbling down 17 concrete steps at the Center for Creative Arts in Chattanooga, where she was two weeks into her junior year of high school.

And she certainly doesn't remember the two weeks she spent unconscious in the hospital.

But she does remember spending three months in physical rehab in Atlanta, trying to regain the use of, well, just about everything. And she remembers the goal that kept driving her.

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Read more student profiles of UTC graduates at www.utc.edu.

"I wanted to go to prom," she says.

She succeeded in that goal, but she did far more than that. Seven years after her devastating fall, she has recovered fully and graduated Saturday with a degree in psychology and her name on the Dean's List at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

"I am one out of a million who was able to recover as best as I did," she says, a few days before graduation. "I should not be in college. I should not be graduating. I shouldn't have graduated high school because of how bad it was."

These days, you would never know she had suffered such horrific injuries.

 

Lost memories

On the day of the accident, she woke up feeling off but went to school anyway. She only remembers bits and pieces of the day. Eating lunch. Complimenting a fellow student on his T-shirt, which said "Zombieland."

"So I went through the whole school day in a daze. I thought it was Thursday, and apparently it was Friday," she recalls.

"I just called my Mom and I'm like, 'Hey, I'm ready to go.' But it sounded very flat. And then she heard a clunk, clunk, clunk and my cellphone fell. I fell down 17 stairs."

She had what is known as a "contrecoup brain injury," where the brain slams into the skull on the opposite side of where the original injury occurs.

"I have a permanent crack right here," she says, pointing to the back of her head.

"Lucky" doesn't seem like a word that would apply, but she says she was lucky there were no facial injuries from her fall.

Once in rehab, she had to work on her balance so she could walk again. She had to work on speaking because she was saying a lot of "word salad." She had to relearn how to fold her laundry and to cook. Oh, and to drive.

"In Atlanta," she says with a half-grimace half-smile.

 

Changes

Although she has all her function back, her personality has changed, she says.

"I tried to go back to being my old self. We call it 'old Hannah' now. But it wasn't. I became meaner because everyone else could live these high school lives and I couldn't. I was forced to be like, 'Oh, I had to grow up now. I don't care about your gossip.'

"And then I became a recluse and stayed back. Didn't go out as much."

Before the injury, she says, "I was super outgoing. I never stayed at home. Just wanted to go, go, go, go. And now I'm like, 'I want a nap.'"

With her UTC degree in hand, however, she's go, go, going to Kent State University in Ohio for a master's in rehabilitation counseling.

"I really wanted to be either a history teacher or a museum curator 'cause I think that stuff's fun," she says. "And I guess I fell into insight I guess I don't know I was like, 'I want to help people like they helped me.'

"I had cheerleaders. I need to be cheerleader for someone else."

Shawn Ryan is a communications and marketing executive staff writer at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and a columnist for the Times Free Press.

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