News and Events
The Healing Power of Faith
Alumna Dora Barilla chronicles her husband's recovery from traumatic brain injury and the strength she gained through faith in her new book, A New Day
Dora Barilla's young daughter has a photo frame in her room with an affirmation written on the edges saying, "Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but about dancing in the rain." While the rest of Southern California enjoyed cloudless skies on March 15, 2005, Barilla (BA '91) will always remember it as the day the storm hit her family and they had to learn to do just that: dance in the rain.
Her husband Tom, an engineer with the Upland Fire Department, was on a routine call that morning when his truck was involved in a horrific collision on the 10 Freeway. He suffered a life-threatening, traumatic brain injury (TBI). When Barilla arrived at the hospital, there was nothing she could do but wait, and pray.
"My husband was on his death bed; my life was turned upside down," she says. "When you have absolutely no control over anything, you turn to God and say, 'There is nothing I can do in this situation to make it better.' And then you ask, 'Please, what can I do?'"
While she waited for signs of improvement in Tom and tried to comfort the couple's two daughters, Barilla did what she had been doing since her teenage years: she chronicled her thoughts, fears, and prayers in a journal. She also tried to find hope in the words of others but discovered a distinct shortage of books catering to the needs of a Christian woman in the powerless position she had found herself in.
She recalls, "There were very few books out there that gave me inspiration, and none that were really using faith as a source of strength. I remember one book in which a woman was using wine as her crutch. I realized that my faith was the only thing sustaining my sanity at that moment."
With that realization she decided to use what she had written and create what has become her debut book, A New Day. The book charts the faithful highs and grim lows of the experience, complete with graphic photos of Tom lying unconscious in the hospital. She recounts the moment she was allowed to see him before he was taken to surgery:
The sight of a trauma patient can be devastating. When they rolled him by in the gurney, I saw an unconscious person that couldn't be my husband … He was bloody and his face and head were so swollen he was unrecognizable. I didn't know where to touch him or where to kiss him.
Although she was still in shock and struggling to find her own strength, that was the moment she opened her heart to God to encourage her husband. While he lay unconscious, she kissed him and told him that God was with him.
"I thought about the scripture verse in Romans that says, 'God uses all things for the good of those who love him,'" she remembers. "I stood on that scripture and realized that someday everything would be okay no matter what happened. God didn't promise that we wouldn't have dark days."
Their storm was followed by a rainbow, as Tom enjoyed what Barilla calls a miraculous recovery. Today, almost five years since the accident, he is back at work with his second family, the Upland Fire Department. Tom's worst long-term damage has been a tendency towards headaches, and the loss of his tastebuds. But it was a long, arduous process.
"He was like an infant, he had to literally re-learn everything," Barilla explains. "With a broken arm, or a broken leg, you have an instrument to measure when it's getting better, but with a brain injury you just don't know—it's a hidden injury. And the medical profession is still very immature in what it knows about the healing process for traumatic brain injuries."
Barilla, both fortunately and unfortunately, was well aware of the precarious position Tom was in from her years of experience in the field of healthcare. She graduated from Seaver College with a bachelor's degree in sports medicine before going on to earn her doctorate in public health from Loma Linda University. She began her career working with hospitals, providers, health plans, and community-based health organizations. But even with all of her experience, Tom's injury opened Barilla's eyes to the wider problems of traumatic brain injuries, including the sad reality that brain injury is the most common injury of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
As firefighters, Tom and his co-workers were deeply affected by the events of 9/11 and Barilla—who is now a professor of health policy at Loma Linda—realized they had an opportunity to use Tom's injury to help the men and women fighting a battle that began on that day. A New Day will not only offer spiritual comfort and hope to families coping with TBI, but will also provide financial help to the organizations and medical facilities that treat the injuries. The Barilla's won't receive any profits from the sales of the book.
"Lives are thrown into disarray with a traumatic injury," says Barilla. "But God picked me up off the floor and said, 'No, this isn't the end of the world.' He clearly led me to write the book and to visit with people one on one to give them hope. To be able to give back really gives some purpose to the injury."
A New Day is available for purchase through the Stephens Press Web site.
Tom Barilla, right, with members of his "second family"