Lauren Faeth survived a horrific car accident and overcame a traumatic brain injury five years ago to go to college and become a nurse.
This week, the 23-year-old from Jay is taking her nursing board exams. The next day, she’s having her right leg amputated below the knee.
She calls it part of getting her life back.
“I’m done with the game of, ‘Let’s save the foot,’ because we’ve done that the last five years and four surgeries and look at where it’s got me now,” Faeth said. “I’ve come this far and I’ve beat the odds — I’m going to beat more odds.”
When Faeth moved with her family to Maine 10 years ago, she became a member of the last graduating class from Livermore Falls High School. She was a top-10 student, played varsity soccer for two years and ran on varsity track and field all four years, a team captain her senior year.
Becoming a certified nursing assistant her junior year solidified an interest in nursing.
“When I finished CNA school, I fell in love with it,” she said. “I loved taking care of people, helping people and making sure they were OK.”
She was accepted into Saint Joseph’s College’s nursing program for the fall of 2011. Then came her accident, July 29, 2011.
Faeth was driving on Route 4 in Livermore that morning, headed to Auburn for an oil change, when she rounded a corner, crossed the yellow line and hit a pickup truck head-on.
She wasn’t speeding or texting — her phone was in her purse in the back seat. She remembers nothing of the day or the days after. Faeth said doctors’ best guess is that she had a medical issue.
A state trooper years later told Faeth she was lucky to be alive, that “nine out of 10 people in that severe of a car accident don’t make it.'”
She burned her right knee on the motor mount, broke two ribs and suffered three brain bleeds. Doctors closed a massive laceration in her head with six to 10 staples.
“They think the (rearview) mirror came down and sliced open my head,” Faeth said. “(On Aug. 12), I remember waking up and walking down the hallway and saying, ‘It feels like my ankle’s broken.’ Come to find out, my ankle was broken. This is when the ball game started with my foot.”
Still in the hospital, doctors told her the prognosis wasn’t good.
“Based on my foot, there was a potential I might never walk again,” Faeth said. “College was questionable and nursing school was out of the question. My life crumbled right before my eyes. I was like, ‘You’re saying I can’t be a nurse?’ I told them straight up, ‘No. I’m going to school.'”
Saint Joseph’s held her spot while she took a year to recover. With the traumatic brain injury, she had headaches, sensitivity to light and sound, and felt tired all the time.
“I had to relearn how to walk,” she said. “I had to relearn how to write; I had to relearn how to learn. My mom would have to give me showers. She handed me a face cloth, ‘Now you do it,’ and I didn’t even know what a face cloth was or what ‘wash up’ meant. From there to today, it’s a complete (180).”
She slowly convinced doctors at Goodwill NeuroRehabilitation in Lewiston that she could handle online classes. They let her take one in the spring, two in the summer, and by fall, she was at St. Joe’s full time.
Faeth graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing in May 2016 at 22. The next month, St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center hired her as a float-pool CNA, working nights in whatever department needed her, provided she didn’t have to walk too much.
While her brain injury had gotten better over the four years, her foot had gotten worse.
“My leg goes out at the knee, my foot goes out at the ankle, so I’m not walking flat,” she said. “My toes are all curled. It’s deteriorating every day.”
Her foot also spasms erratically, making a brace impossible to wear. She has severe pain that’s started to creep up her knee, hips and back.
“The blood supply is not being replenished to the bone,” Faeth said.
If she doesn’t amputate now, it might mean needing to take off more of her leg later. “There’s a whole lot of risks that I have in waiting,” Faeth said.
Later this week she’ll take her nursing boards and find out the next day, either before or after surgery, whether she passed.
Her hope is to take six to eight months to heal and relearn to walk before looking for work. She’s started a GoFundMe page, A Fight for Faeth, for help covering the cost of her new prosthetic. She’s anticipating charges up to $20,000. Insurance will only cover 75 to 80 percent. She said it’s taxed her family to help her with both college and medical bills since the accident.
Faeth, who is on the board for the Michael T. Goulet Traumatic Brain Injury & Epilepsy Foundation in Saco, has gone into schools to share her story with students. She has a particular passion for raising awareness about concussions and taking injuries seriously.
Sharlene Adams, Goodwill’s executive director of Health Care Services, said Faeth has been “incredibly resilient.”
“We’re so proud of her,” Adams said. “It’s devastating that her brain injury affected her leg and that a 23-year-old we care about is going to lose part of her leg, but we know Lauren. She will come out on the other side stronger. She always does. We can’t wait to see what greatness she achieves once she is able to move around freely. She’ll be unstoppable.”
Faeth is nervous but excited. She’s sure everything happened for a reason; she just doesn’t know what it is yet.
Long term, she’d like to study to become a doctor, working with patients coming back from war or dealing with concussions.
“I haven’t been able to experience things a normal kid my age would,” Faeth said. “I’m going to get my life back — it’s something I’ve been fighting for since the accident. If I want to run around the yard after my kids, when I have kids, I’ll be able to.”
An excerpt from Lauren Faeth’s essay, “To my dearest right foot”:
These past 23 years together have been extremely eventful to say the least. We have traveled across the USA together; from feeling the California sand in between our toes, playing soccer, running the fastest 100m section of the 4×100 that I have ever run, crossing the stage at my high school graduation, the shenanigans we got into with my best friends, but most importantly my college graduation, and inspiring others through every step I take with the MTG (Michael T. Goulet) Foundation.
You know that 5 years ago we faced an obstacle that changed our lives together; but we never gave up, and instead we kept fighting! You have helped me take the toughest steps since then, with the “big toe up” you continuously give me each and every day. But unfortunately, I have noticed that over the years we have also grown apart. I know you have heard all of the doctors’ options on the next step I should make, but I want you to know that if I could keep you with me I would.
We will be cutting our losses and the doctor will be cutting you out of my life. I know this may be hard news to take, but it needs to be done. Soon, we will have one last girls’ day, I think a final pedicure is in our future. I hope you enjoy these last few weeks with me, and try not to be that much of a pain in my butt. Just know that it’s me, not you.