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'I will get my words back'

by Helen Wilbers | January 17, 2020 at 12:48 a.m. | Updated January 17, 2020 at 12:48 a.m.
Lauren Murphy, left, and her mother, Colleen, share Lauren's story of surviving and recovering from a traumatic brain injury with a William Woods University audience Wednesday. Six years after her accident, Lauren has relearned how to eat, run and speak and now travels as an inspirational speaker.

When Lauren Murphy arrived in the emergency room broken and battered after being hit by a car going full speed, doctors weren't sure she'd even survive.

She did.

Then they weren't sure if she'd ever feed herself again.

She did.

They weren't sure she'd ever walk, much less run.

She did.

And today, she's working hard on regaining her voice as an inspirational speaker. Murphy, of St. Louis, visited William Woods University on Thursday to share her story with the help of her mother, Colleen.

"Murphys don't quit," Lauren said.

At 24, Lauren was on track to success. She'd earned a master's degree and had moved to New York City for a high-powered job.

"Before my accident, I was independent and strong," Lauren said.

But during a visit to Los Angeles, all her plans were overturned by a fateful run-in during her morning jog.

"Let me let you in on a secret," Colleen told her college audience. "Every night, your mom and dad lie in bed and worry about you."

This time, her worries were founded. She got a call from the Los Angeles Police Department saying Lauren had been in an accident. Colleen admitted her first thought upon receiving a call from the police was "What did she do?" The second: "Why isn't she calling me?"

A phone conversation with the hospital social worker confirmed Lauren's outlook was grim.

"I asked if she was going to die. There was a long pause," Colleen remembered. "The social worker said, 'If you're asking if you should come, the answer is yes.'"

The family - in addition to her parents, Lauren has six siblings - rushed to Los Angeles. There, they finally learned what had happened. Lauren was out on a run and listening to music through her earbuds when she attempted to cross a street moments before the light changed. A box truck edging into the intersection blocked the view of oncoming traffic.

As she passed the truck, the light changed, and a vehicle came flying through at 45-50 mph.

"People were honking - they could see what was going to happen," Colleen said.

But Lauren didn't hear a thing. Next thing she knew, her skull was bouncing off the car's windshield. She flew 10 feet in the air before landing 30 feet away. Her skull and collarbone were shattered. Because she wasn't carrying an ID card, she was rushed to the hospital as a Jane Doe.

With her brain swelling dangerously, Lauren's care time acted fast. Drilling holes in her skull didn't relieve enough pressure, so a surgeon instead cut away a large portion of her skull, plus a chunk of Lauren's temporal lobe. (Her skull would eventually be replaced by a plastic plate.)

"That's why she still has trouble with speech," Colleen said.

When the family arrived, Lauren was "unrecognizable." Even after she woke from her coma, she couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't recognize the people around her.

"It's like the lights were on but no one was home," Colleen said.

Lauren underwent four surgeries and spent more than 120 days in the hospital before moving to an inpatient rehabilitation center. Colleen said she and her family weren't sure if there was even hope - there'd been talks of moving Lauren to a nursing home if she didn't show signs of recovery.

"I was not looking so good," Lauren said.

But through the support of her family, doctors, therapists and friends, Lauren began a slow journey toward recovery. Along the way, she said, she learned five key lessons.

"Number one is just 'Show up,'" she said. "Easy-peasy!"

Of course, it wasn't "easy-peasy." Regaining her motor skills and overcoming her aphasia - which makes it difficult for her to read, write, comprehend spoken language and speak - took many hours of grueling and often-frustrating work.

"I feel angry and frustrated," Lauren said. "Aphasia is so hard."

With her family's support, Lauren showed up for her physical, occupational and speech therapy. She still spends about 20 minutes per day practicing her language skills.

And other people showed up for her family - including Taylor Swift, who visited while Lauren was sleeping in the hospital and pulled her backstage years later at a concert.

Lesson two: "Find your cheerleader," Lauren said.

Watching the two speak, it's clear Colleen is one of Lauren's biggest cheerleaders.

"She will be up here on her own someday, telling her story," Colleen said.

Third, "Kindness is free." Those around the Murphy family found many creative ways to show kindness. A couple still stick out in Colleen's memory, such as the family who brought a box of Tide Pods and the mother who paid for her other children's lunches.

"It wasn't so much the money, it was the act," Colleen said, encouraging the audience to find their own ways to show kindness.

Fourth: "Work hard."

"Every day, I work hard for my recovery," Lauren said.

In addition to her language practice, Lauren's worked to strengthen her body. She takes 22 pills per day to keep seizures and other symptoms at bay. Since the accident, she's completed 35 5K races - despite the occasional mid-race seizure. She makes time for fun, too.

"She's a professional shopper," Colleen quipped.

And fifth: "Never give up. This is so important," Lauren said.

Colleen remembers the dark days following Lauren's transfer to the rehab center and how she clung to the family mantra, "Murphys don't quit."

"All we knew is, we have to have faith in our child," Colleen said.

The faith and the hard work paid off. In May 2019, Lauren fought through her aphasia and acted as the commencement speaker at her alma mater, Fontbonne University in St. Louis.

Today, she's active on social media and as an inspirational speaker. Lauren can be found on Twitter at @murphysdontquit or at


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