Ayana Barkley didn’t always have plans to be a nurse. But after her father was hospitalized for back-to-back surgeries, and she saw how nurses took care of him, her career plans changed.
“I’ve always liked helping people, and that motivated me,” she says.
After graduating from Saint Martin de Porres High School in 2011, Ayana enrolled in the University of Toledo’s College of Nursing but transferred to Cleveland State University in her sophomore year. She took a break from school in 2013 when her daughter Aniyah was born but vowed she would return to school one day to finish her degree.
In September 2019, Ayana’s life looked like it was getting back on track. At 26, she had her own apartment and was excited to start a new job as a trauma nurse assistant. Her daughter was thriving in kindergarten.
But on September 28, everything changed.
That evening, Ayana dropped her daughter off at her mother’s house and met up with friends. On the way home, she drove to a nearby deli to pick up some food.
Ayana remembers leaving the deli and looking both ways before crossing the street to where her car was parked. She remembers being within arm’s length of her car door. She doesn’t remember being run over by an SUV driving at high speed.
In an instant, Ayana was near death. She was rushed to University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. She had suffered a pelvic fracture, left knee fracture, and a traumatic brain injury. The injuries to her right leg were so severe that doctors had to perform a below-knee amputation. In the first week alone, Ayana had four surgeries.
She remained on a ventilator in a medically induced coma for 10 days. Ayana ended up having nine operations while at UH.
Ayana spent nearly two years recovering, first at an acute long-term care hospital. By her side the entire time was her mother, Robin Hodge Barkley, who moved Ayana to a nursing home as Ayana’s recovery progressed slowly. Dissatisfied the care there, Robin moved Ayana to a second nursing home, where she began getting some physical therapy services. It wasn’t enough, though.
Robin had heard through word of mouth that the MetroHealth Rehabilitation Institute was the best place for her daughter to make more progress. Robin did her own research and found out that what her friends and co-workers had told her was true. But until Ayana was strong enough to endure the rigorous daily therapy sessions, she wouldn’t be able to be admitted.
Finally, in August 2021, Ayana was ready to come to MetroHealth for inpatient physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Almost immediately, she noticed a change in her attitude that came from people getting her up every day and taking her to her sessions.
“I was feeling that I could do this, I can walk again and go back to doing everything I was doing before,” she recalls.
After six weeks of intensive inpatient therapy, Ayana was discharged on September 24, 2021. She began outpatient therapy the following week — almost two years to the day that a reckless driver nearly took her life.
When Ayana arrived for her first day of outpatient physical therapy, Deanna Bouman said she wondered how much more Ayana’s condition could improve.
“My initial thought was that I wasn’t sure what we would be able to do,” says Deanna, a MetroHealth physical therapist. “Her injuries were so severe.”
Ayana couldn’t stand without help. Continued severe pain in her left knee made that leg weak and unstable. She lacked upper body strength needed to roll over in bed.
But after a few months of working with Deanna, Ayana’s balance, walking, strength, and endurance improved. With help, it got easier to transfer in and out of her wheelchair and bed without someone having to operate a Hoyer lift at home.
Working with Lexi Emerick and other occupational therapists, Ayana was more adept at dressing and other personal tasks.
The first time Ayana walked holding onto the parallel bars in the therapy gym was such a big moment that other patients there were cheering for her, Deanna says.
In addition to Deanna and other physical therapists, Ayana had sessions with Margo McGreal, who is specially trained to work with patients with lower limb amputation.
A new prosthetic leg arrived in April. The improved fit allowed her to move more easily.
At home, Ayana’s independence and mobility using the walker increased. She could stand for longer periods and walk up and down stairs with help. On September 30, her last physical therapy session for the year, Ayana received a sash made of therapy bands and was anointed “therapy queen.”
“She really has worked hard,” Margo says. “She always would try anything we suggested.”
Ayana is determined to finish her nursing degree before she turns 35 in 2028. She finished her prerequisites before the accident but will need to complete her clinical work. She hopes to begin taking classes at Cuyahoga Community College this semester.
“Every other day I’m doing something new that I wasn’t able to do,” she says. “My mother is the reason why I went to MetroHealth. She knew that going there would help me get back to where I was before.”