Family Talks Taylor Godfrey ’s Road to Recovery
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
The world was in the midst of a global pandemic, but folks were starting to settle into some routines that made them feel less alone, more connected and a bit more hopeful that the future would turn out OK. Taylor Godfrey, 18, was within days of finishing her senior year at Western High School. A tomboy at heart who adores agriculture, working on her truck, and playing with her dog, a Border-Aussie named Nutmeg, she’s the quintessential girl next door.
On May 11, 2020, Taylor met up with friends to finish their final papers for school, then celebrate by grabbing ice cream. She was due home around 10 p.m., though her mom Natalie didn’t panic when she didn’t come through the door right on time. After all, she was a responsible young lady about to head off to college to study manufacturing, and an incredibly safe driver, always putting her phone on silent mode before placing it in her back seat to avoid distractions.
Speaking of phones, Taylor Godfrey and her friends had installed Life360 tracking on their devices so they could monitor one another’s whereabouts. When Taylor’s friends texted Natalie to ask if she was home, they mentioned that Taylor’s phone indicated that she had been at the same location for more than half an hour – just two miles down the road from her house. Natalie’s stomach dropped.
“When I saw she was at an intersection on State Road 26, that’s when I knew it was bad,” Natalie says.
Taylor had been heading south on 400 West – the same intersection she had crossed over hundreds of times. On this night, however, as she was crossing the intersection, a semi-trailer truck T-boned her.
Taylor was rushed to the hospital with a long list of severe injuries. She had a traumatic brain injury, broken ribs, a broken pelvic bone, two fractured hips, a bruised and lacerated kidney, two collapsed lungs, internal bleeding, as well as head-to-toe scratches, wounds and tears. Doctors had to perform a decompressive craniectomy to remove half of her skull bone in order to relieve pressure on her brain. It was nothing short of a miracle that she survived such a horrific accident.
She remained in a coma for three weeks at Parkview Health in Fort Wayne.
“Her first week at Parkview, we weren’t allowed to be with her,” says her father Rodney. “That was excruciating.”
The pandemic was stressful enough, but here they were grappling with not knowing if their daughter was going to live or die, and the thought of her passing away and not being in the room with her was nearly too much to bear.
“It almost broke us,” Natalie says, choking back tears.
When Taylor began to emerge from her coma, it was not instantaneous the way it’s often portrayed in the movies.
“Hollywood lies,” Rodney says. “Coma patients don’t wake up and start carrying on full conversations like you see on TV. It’s a progression. June 3 was when she squeezed my hand for the first time.”
Rodney alerted Natalie, who immediately FaceTimed her daughter.
“The second Taylor saw me, she started crying,” Natalie says. “She recognized me.”
The ultimate goal was to get her into an inpatient rehabilitation facility where she could continue to get hospital care, since she still had a tracheostomy tube for breathing. After doing some research, Rodney and Natalie decided to send her to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“We found some top-notch rehab hospitals for brain injury in Denver, Atlanta and Chicago, but we ruled those out because we weren’t sure she could make the travel,” Rodney says.
Mary Free Bed was closer to home, though still a four-hour drive, and it provided the level of care as well as the access to Taylor that they wanted.
The couple took turns being with her every other week – one stayed home with their son Mason while the other was in Michigan with Taylor.
“We would come home and decompress, trying to be as quasi-normal as possible,” says Natalie, who describes the past year as the “longest, fastest year because all the days gelled into one.”
Taylor was at Mary Free Bed from June 18 until October 15. The day she came home was highly emotional because of the way the community rallied around the family.
“The excitement was tangible,” says Natalie, whose support system had grown quickly as a result of a Facebook page she had created days after the accident called “Prayers for Taylor.”
The page provided a way to mass communicate with friends and family, since individual texting was too tedious. Before long the page reached thousands of people, and prayers poured in from far and wide.
Homecoming day was special as the emergency medical services, fire, and sheriff’s departments coordinated their efforts to provide a 20-mile police escort from the Howard County line all the way home as supporters lined the streets, waving and cheering.
Since then, visitors have been practically nonexistent due to COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean the family hasn’t felt the love from the community.
“People have organized meals, provided relief, made signs and T-shirts, and prayed,” Rodney says. “Throughout this journey, the level of support has been enormous, which is so comforting. That’s been a bright spot in this ordeal.”
The family’s faith has been the cornerstone of their fortitude and resilience during this challenging and draining year.
“We leaned hard on our church family,” Natalie says.
They witnessed faith in action every single day.
“I would receive texts from people at just the right time in just the amount I needed,” Rodney says.
Though they were believers prior to the accident, their faith has grown exponentially since that fateful day.
“It has grown so much that it actually makes us feel, for a lack of a better word, happier because we know that in spite of what could have happened and in spite of what is happening, we are trusting God with all of this and that takes away our stress for a time,” Rodney says. “If it wasn’t for God, Taylor wouldn’t be here today. Neither would we.”
When people tell them that Taylor’s story has caused them to become reacquainted with their faith after having pulled away from God in the past, or that they started following Taylor’s journey and found God as a result, they couldn’t be more thrilled.
“Taylor has always been a faith-filled person and a lamp for others, so the fact that she is still leading people to Christ makes me happy,” says Natalie, who notes that though her daughter has forgotten so many things, faith has remained at the forefront of her heart and mind. “We would watch church online at Mary Free Bed and Taylor would get emotional. It was beautiful to see that she never forgot her faith.”
Today Taylor Godfrey is still recovering, and though she’s come a long way through the past 12 months, she still has a long way to go.
“I see improvements on almost a daily basis,” Rodney says. “Physically, she’s doing really well. It’s the cognitive functioning that still needs improvement – short-term memory recall and problem solving.”
Nevertheless, the strides she has made have been incredible, especially considering that doctors told the family that this is one of the most severe cases they have ever seen. Though she no longer needs medical care, she still requires self-care, meaning that someone needs to be with her constantly to help her navigate the world.
“It’s almost like a toddler in a grown-up body because she gets up like she’s on a mission but then forgets where she was headed and why,” Natalie says.
As high school graduates take to the stage in their caps and gowns this June, the Godfreys think about last year as they watched Taylor’s graduation ceremony online from her hospital room in Grand Rapids.
“She didn’t really understand at the time what was happening or what was going on,” Natalie says.
Still, they celebrated that milestone and continue to celebrate new ones every day. As COVID vaccinations ramp up and it becomes safer to venture out into the world, the family plans to travel to see other family members, including their son Andrew, who lives in Tennessee with two children of his own.
“We missed out on so many things last year,” Natalie says. “Rodney and I both turned 50. Taylor graduated from high school. Mason graduated from college. I feel like we need to have one big party to celebrate everything. If and when that will happen, nobody knows. We’re just going to enjoy each day as it comes.”
About this time, Taylor Godfrey enters the room and is asked if there’s anything she’d like to say to those who have been checking in on her and her family throughout the past year.
“I love them,” she says sweetly.
“That’s perfect,” Natalie says.