Five years later: Teen not only survives crash, she thrives

Aug. 1, 2017, started out like almost any day for Ayanna Herrold. She got in her car and headed along Lake Ontario State Parkway to work out at the gym. But somehow her car left the road and hit several trees before coming to a complete stop.

She wasn’t texting. She wasn’t speeding. She didn’t remember seeing a deer.

It just happened. And nothing was the same.

“Seeing Ayanna was the things nightmares are made of for moms,” said Tanya, Ayanna’s mother. “Nobody wants to see their child on a ventilator, swollen. It was heartbreaking.”

ayanna herrold

Recovery begins

Three weeks later, Ayanna was transferred to the Golisano Restorative Neurology & Rehabilitation Center at Unity Hospital.

“The day Ayanna went [to Golisano], she wasn’t talking, walking, communicating at all,” Tanya said. “She still almost looked like a shell of herself. Her primary nurse looked me in the eye and said, ‘You know she is going to walk out of here?’ I was almost taken aback by someone having so much faith in not only Ayanna but in what Golisano could do for her.”

When Ayanna arrived, she wasn’t breathing on her own either, said Angela Ferro, a speech pathologist at Golisano. “So we worked a lot on her breathing on her own – putting a speaking valve on to see if we could get her voice to turn on.”

It worked, and Ayanna and her family members were thrilled and grateful.

“When you think that you’ll never be able to communicate with your child again, or more importantly that they will never be able to communicate with you again, that’s really hard for a parent,” Tanya said. “So it was just one more thing that Golisano gave us back in her.”

Soon Ayanna had another breakthrough.

“I actually fully remember the day that I moved my leg for the first time,” Ayanna said. “I cried. I was like, ‘I just moved something that hasn’t worked in almost two months.’ After I moved it, I was like, ‘I’m going to walk. I’m going to walk. I can do whatever I put my mind to.’”

And she did.

Starting a new chapter

Ayanna was a cheerleader at Brockport High School, and she returned for Senior Night that fall. Her parents helped her on the football field with her wheelchair, but to deafening applause, she stood and walked when her name was called.

Then, she started college at SUNY Brockport, where she’s now finishing up her junior year in psychology. She’s working two jobs – one as a home health aide and another as a barista – and she’s planning on earning her doctorate.

“I was doing personal training to get ready for the Marines boot camp, that’s where I was actually heading. I was heading to personal training when I got into my car accident,” Ayanna said. “I was going into the Marines to prove I was strong. I am not weak. And I proved it – just not through the Marines. Through a different way.”