AUBURN — On Aug.6, Danika DeMayo was seriously injured in a car accident at the intersection of Route 4 and Lake Shore Drive, joining a long list of people who have been injured at that spot.
It’s a day her family will never forget — and an event that energized Lake Shore Drive residents and public officials to improve the safety at that intersection.
Today, DeMayo is a lively kindergartner who doesn’t remember the accident and doesn’t want her family to talk about it.
Her mother, Amy Liberman, said DeMayo told her, “Mommy, it’s done and over with. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Let’s just move on.”
DeMayo spent more than a week in intensive care for treatment of a head injury, and doctors warned she could have suffered permanent brain damage. When the 5-year-old was released from the hospital to return home, she had regressed to the physical and emotional abilities of a 3-year-old, Liberman said.
The change in DeMayo was so overwhelming for her 17-year-old sister, Trish Smith, to handle that Smith moved out of the house to live with her grandmother for a while.
Smith is home again, and Liberman said the family is healing.
DeMayo is enjoying kindergarten and doing well in school. In fact, assessment tests show that she is performing above average, something Liberman said no one expected to see happen so quickly.
DeMayo, who started kindergarten about a month later than other students, is not allowed to go sledding this winter to protect her head. She’s also required to wear a helmet when she goes to outside recess. To lessen the stigma, her teacher “came up with a phenomenal idea of letting Danika have a ‘helmet buddy,’ and now all the kids want to be her buddy so they all take turns wearing a helmet outside with DeMayo, Liberman said.
When DeMayo was first released from the hospital, Liberman said, the 5-year-old was frustrated with her physical limitations, which Liberman said was hard to watch. That difficult period lasted through September and October. “Our little girl was healing more and more as the weeks passed,” Liberman said. One day in November when DeMayo woke up “she was back to her old self. Literally.”
The family expects DeMayo to make a full recovery, and has noticed in her drawing and writing that she is now ambidextrous. DeMayo’s hair, which was shaved off after the accident, is growing back, and she hopes to return to dancing and start piano lessons in 2013.
Liberman is still struggling with the emotional trauma of the wreck, and has frequent flashbacks and anxiety.
On the day of the accident, Liberman said she and her daughter were supposed to meet her husband and Smith at LongHorn Steakhouse for dinner but found themselves in town an hour early. They decided to take a drive around Lake Auburn and stop to skip a couple of rocks on the water.
As Liberman was waiting to turn left on to Lake Shore Drive, her car was hit from behind, and the impact rocked DeMayo out of her booster seat and fractured her skull in three places. The other two passengers in the car were not injured, but Liberman said she has not been able to drive on Route 4 since that day. It’s too frightening for her.
MDOT has since installed a flashing yellow warning sign on Route 4, just south of Lake Shore Drive, warning motorists to expect cars to be turning there, which Liberman recognizes as a good outcome of her family’s pain. She hopes it will spare another family their horrible experience.
“I literally felt like I was dying when I thought my child was going to die. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on a chance to hug and kiss your child and tell them that you love them. Ever. You just never know,” she said.