WOODSTOCK, Maine — Danika DeMayo loves to play. Letting rip with a squeal of laughter, the energetic 5-year-old takes off running from the studio of her parent’s Woodstock home to show off her bedroom and playroom to visitors.
Danika’s youthful enthusiasm is a far cry from the prognosis doctors offered her family just one month earlier as their little girl lay in a medically induced coma at Maine Medical Center after an Aug. 6 crash on Route 4. Her mother’s car was hit from behind at a high rate of speed. Danika was in a car seat in the back seat.
“I came home a different person,” Danika’s mother, Amy Liberman, said. “I keep replaying the accident in my mind. I’m just thankful Danika can’t remember it.”
Liberman called the crash that nearly claimed her daughter’s life “a nightmare come true.” The 34-year-old mother of two spent the last month in Portland — staying first at the hospital and then at the nearby Ronald McDonald House, leaving the youngster’s side for just brief periods of time.
Doctors put DeMayo in a medically induced coma in order to insert a monitor in her head to gauge the pressure. Brain swelling was so severe as a result of the crash doctors considered cutting out a portion of her skull to give it extra room.
DeMayo was eventually moved to the Barbara Bush children’s wing of the Portland hospital. On the surface, the youngster looks to be reclaiming her life, but Liberman points out that the road to recovery that lies before their family is likely long and already paved with bumps.
“Between occupational therapy and physical therapy, we try to focus a lot on trying to build the strength back in her right hand. She gets so frustrated when she has to use her right hand,” Liberman said. “She knows that she’s different. Most days we try to keep her busy with activities. We don’t want her to be sad.”
Liberman said doctors tell her it will take 12 to 18 months for Danika’s brain to heal from the injury, but long-term effects won’t be seen right away. At this point, doctors are focusing on the girl’s right hand, which has lost much its motor skill. Liberman is holding out hope Danika will regain full use of her hand considering the little girl loved to draw before the crash.
Now, the art center set up weeks ago to encourage Danika’s creative spirit focuses more on helping her regain full use of the hand she once used to draw 25 to 50 pictures everyday.
Liberman and her husband, Marc, had just moved into their Woodstock home overlooking the mountains when the crash occurred. The couple had barely unpacked boxes when their lives turned upside down in a matter of moments.
Sitting on the couch in their studio, Liberman’s voice cracks as she remembers the accident.
Sensing her mother’s sadness, the youngster curls up next to her, kisses her cheek and tells her not to cry. Liberman reaches over gently and touches the remaining stitches on her daughter’s healing head and promises she won’t, even as she recalls how helpless Danika looked in the moments after the crash slumped forward in her car seat.
Riding in the car with Liberman were her mother, Patricia DeMayo, who was in the front seat, Danika, who was seated behind her, and the boyfriend of her 17-year-old daughter, Trishh, also in the back seat.
A pickup truck driven by 33-year-old Chester R. Merriam of Sumner slammed into the back of the Scion driven by Liberman. The force propelled her car into the back of a Toyota stopped in front of Liberman that was waiting to turn left onto Lake Shore Drive.
“I just couldn’t see her like that,” Liberman said of the moments after the crash when, injured herself, she was trying to get to the back of the car to her daughter.
At the same time, Brooke Pinkham, who lost her own brother, Brett, in a car crash a year ago Sunday, was driving past the scene with her sister to visit their mother in Turner. The Central Maine Medical Center nurse said she never stops at crashes, but something in her gut immediately told her this time was different.
Pinkham said this was the first time in her 13 years as an emergency room nurse that stopped at the scene of a car accident. While the Liberman’s and Patricia DeMayo consider her a hero, Pinkham said she just did what her gut told her to do.
According to Liberman, it was Pinkham’s aid that helped save her daughter’s life. Pinkham crawled into the car and held Danika’s head and chest up so that the little girl’s airways were open. She also continued talking not only to Danika, but to Liberman as well, calming everyone down until emergency crews arrived.
Last week following her return home, Pinkham went to the Liberman’s home to meet the little girl whose life she saved. Pinkham’s own brother died Sept. 2, 2011, after his car hit a tree and burned on Center Bridge Road in Turner. For her, meeting Danika meant something very special, very personal.
“He’d passed away one year ago today,” Pinkham said Sunday. “For me, just going through what I went through, it meant the world to me to have something so positive. She is the sweetest, most vibrant little girl. It was just so amazing to see something positive.”