Against All Odds

After a traumatic car crash, Holly Daubenspeck had to relearn how to breathe, swallow, speak and walk. Today, she is thriving as a PTK member, member of the NCC Psychology Club and VP of the National Society of Leadership and Success.

Holly Daubenspeck
Holly Daubenspeck

Resilience in the face of trauma is a hallmark of one Northampton Community College communications major’s character. In 2011, while driving home from a student teaching assignment for Susquehanna University, Holly Daubenspeck endured a car crash that traumatically injured her brain, broke 13 of her bones and left her in a coma for three months.

Holly ultimately plans to work as a teacher but has yet to decide the subject or age range of the students she would like to teach. Before college, she was identified as gifted and talented. She currently uses a smart pen to assist with notetaking due to short-term memory limitations from her traumatic brain injury (TBI). Holly Daubenspeck believes her exceptionalities will help her connect with learners of various abilities.

“I can empathize with all the students now,” said Holly, who selected NCC in part for its close-knit community and proximity to her Nazareth home.

Intending to become a music teacher, Holly played the piano and viola; she considered her voice her primary instrument. After the accident, paralyzed vocal cords left her unable to sing.  She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music, but her injuries prevented her from completing the student teaching assignment she needed to earn her teaching certificate.

“If she sees something that’s difficult, she attacks it twice as hard.”

Pat Daubenspeck, Holly’s mother

Enrolling in NCC gave Holly new goals and activities to feel excited about. She belongs to the NCC chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, which sponsors Honors in Action (HIA) community service projects. Last year, Holly and other HIA participants developed flashcards and collected writing instruments to donate to schoolchildren. She has also served as the secretary of NCC’s Psychology Club and is a current member. She volunteers as vice president of the National Society of Leadership and Success.

Holly demonstrates motivation in the classroom as well.

“Holly has pushed herself out of her comfort zone to learn more about the impact of culture on communication by interviewing an NCC ESL student from Syria and then maintaining contact to continue to learn more. That activity is often a stretch for students, and Holly was anxious and excited and very prepared for the interview,” said Professor Donna Acerra, who teaches Daubenspeck’s Honors Intercultural Communication class.

Holly Daubenspeck/Photo by Randy Monceaux

Her self-motivation serves her well as she continues to recover from her injuries, said her mother, Pat Daubenspeck.  Holly underwent extensive therapy to try to learn how to drive again but discovered that she could not master the coordination needed for the task. Re-learning how to walk involved reaching certain milestones. Holly flushed her wheelchair’s safety belt down the toilet to indicate her determination to walk using just a walker.  To show she was ready to move with less assistance, Holly took to carrying her walker instead of using it for support.

“If she sees something that’s difficult, she attacks it twice as hard,” Pat said of her daughter’s attitude toward recovery.

Pat recalls receiving the phone call from the hospital chaplain saying that Holly had been in a serious accident and urging family members to come immediately. The chaplain could not provide details of the accident or Holly’s condition, so her parents made the three-hour trip not knowing what to expect. Holly’s father, Ron Daubenspeck, took a six-week leave of absence from work to care for Holly. Pat and Holly’s sister, Alyce Daubenspeck,paused their work and college studies, respectively, and moved into the hospital for five months to help Holly recover. Recovery started with coming out of the coma, then progressed to re-learning how to breathe independently, swallow, speak and walk.

Recovery moves slowly so patience is essential for people without TBI who wish to support those recovering from brain injuries, Holly said. She advises people with TBI to visualize achievable goals.

 “Believe in yourself. If you can see the end result, you can get there,” encourages Holly.