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One night in late October 2017, Jackie was struck by a van going over 50 mph as she crossed the street to get to her car. With the support of MetroHealth Rehabilitation Institute, Jackie overcame the odds.

Jackie Palmer has always been in perpetual motion. Skiing. Competitive dance. High school marching band and flag team. Swim club at The Ohio State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science in 2014. A half marathon and a couple of long-distance races.

In 2016, Jackie started a 30-month physician assistant graduate program in Miami, Florida.

One night in late October 2017, after spending time with friends Fort Lauderdale, Jackie and her roommate were struck by a van going over 50 mph as they crossed the street to get to their car. Paramedics transported them to Broward Health Medical Center. Jackie suffered an open fracture and nerve damage to her left arm; several broken facial bones; a broken jaw; a complete tear of the PCL ligament in her knee joint; a collapsed lung; and a traumatic brain injury. Her roommate suffered several broken bones and required multiple surgeries.

At 1 a.m. the phone rang at Jackie’s parents’ house in Strongsville. Joe Palmer answered; it was one of Jackie’s friends on the other end.

That morning Lori and Joe Palmer flew to Florida to be with their daughter. She was in a coma.

After several surgeries, and three weeks in the ICU, Jackie was moved to the respiratory care unit. She emerged from her coma with no memory of the accident or the previous three months. She was largely unaware of her condition.

Doctors wanted to transfer her to a nearby skilled nursing facility. Lori said no. “We really wanted her to be at home in familiar surroundings to facilitate her recovery.”

A resident doctor said MetroHealth was one of the best in the country for rehabilitation. So, the morning before Thanksgiving, Lori and Christina joined Jackie on a private jet, courtesy of Angel Flight, a non-profit group that provides free or deeply discounted flights to patients. By 9:30 a.m., they were at the MetroHealth Rehabilitation Institute.

Two days after her 26th birthday, Jackie started working with speech therapist Teresa Kusner, occupational therapist Laura Poling and a physical therapist.

By the time she settled into her parent’s home on December 23, she was using a cane. She still struggled with her balance, memory, comprehension, and attention deficits.

In early January 2018, Jackie began outpatient therapy. Lisa Garber was her physical therapist.

Speech pathologist Lisa Lincoln worked with Jackie on controlling the pitch of her voice, which had become high and monotone after her injury. To help Jackie relearn how to process and synthesize complex information, Lisa had her listen to podcasts and write summaries of what she heard.

Occupational therapist Megan Anderson borrowed old schoolwork from her physician assistant friends to help Jackie with her organization and study skills.

Jackie constantly asked when she could return to Florida and school. “I was such an annoying patient,” she says.

Victoria Whitehair, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, insisted that Jackie enroll in a summer class at Cuyahoga Community College to see how she handled academic rigor in a controlled environment.

Jackie chose a pathophysiology class; her final grade was 120%.

Outpatient therapy wrapped up in December 2018. Jackie volunteered in the main campus emergency department for a few months as a non-medical assistant for patients and families.

In May 2019 Jackie traveled to the Island Dolphin Care therapy program in Key Largo, Florida. She worked on art projects, played games, and swam with Fiji the dolphin during her five-day stay.

A week later, with Dr. Whitehair’s blessing, she attended a professional conference in Denver.

By August 2019, Jackie had resumed her physician assistant graduate program in Florida. She had to redo her entire first year. The Tri-C class had made her realize that her school experience was going to be very different this time around. She took a more active approach to studying, writing everything out in her own words “so I’d have a little muscle memory to go along with memorization.”

Jackie received her master’s degree in December 2021; today she works for a health system in Rochester, New York.

She is skiing and running again. On weekends she volunteers with an animal shelter, going on walks and hikes with dogs.

“My experience as a patient at MetroHealth still helps me to this day!” she says. “I love it when patients have questions and want to be involved in their care, and I always try to explain things to them in a way they can understand. I was that patient who asked a million questions too, so now it’s my turn to be for them what everyone at MetroHealth was for me.”