PEPPERELL — Jan. 25 was a typical New England winter day. The roads were slippery, covered with snow.
Olivia Dineen, her brother, John, and two of his friends, all students at North Middlesex Regional High School, were driving home to Pepperell after finals. It was 10:30 a.m.
They decided to take back roads to avoid traffic. A few minutes into the ride, they saw their friend Kendra Scott’s car stuck in a snow bank on Harbor Street.
John Dineen, 18, was driving. He pulled into the nearest driveway and he and his friends got out to help Kendra. Cars passed by, slipping and sliding on the snow-covered road but they all made it by, nothing to worry about. Olivia stood watching as the boys pushed the stuck car.
They kept it up until a passing car lost control and started to slide out of its lane. The teens ran to get out of its way.
Olivia started to run. Her next memory is of being wedged between the car and a rock wall where it had come to rest. She had no idea what happened.
Her first thought was she was dead because everything was white around her. Then she saw the red light on her cell phone and knew she was still alive. She didn’t know that her brother John, too, had been hit by the same car. There he was, next to her, helping her stay calm.
John was also pinned by the car, but wriggled free and without another thought began to help his sister. He and his friends pushed the car off her and moved her to a safe place. Their mom, Claudia, said John was “on fire” due to the adrenalin rush he got because of the crash. By now, several people had called E-911. John called his mom, who works at Pepperell Family Pharmacy. She reacted fast, following the emergency crew to the scene.
Olivia was rushed by ambulance to Southern NH Hospital. She had a shattered pelvis, broken hip and broken sacrum. John, who was bruised, but not badly, was driven to the hospital by their dad, Paul.
While John was being taken care of, Olivia was taken to the trauma center, then transported to Boston Children’s Hospital, where surgeons rebuilt her pelvis, installing two six-inch screws to hold it together. The other two injuries were left to heal on their own.
After two-and-a-half weeks in the hospital, Olivia went home to recover. The family moved a hospital bed into the dining room. For the next three weeks, she was in and out of the Boston hospital for treatments. Those trips were tough for her. Any small movement of the car caused her pain.
During this time, the family found out that they couldn’t give her the care she needed at home, so they talked to Olivia’s doctors, who admitted her to Spaulding Rehab, which is across the street from The Boston Garden. She has been there since March 16.
Olivia now spends her time in daily therapy classes, from physical therapy to strengthen her muscles to occupational therapy to help her with tasks such as putting on her shoes and clothes. She also takes cognitive behavior classes and works with a meditation group. In Child Life Skills classes, she works on art and craft projects and cooks. She is trying to work through what has happened to her, she says, but it’s not easy.
Olivia was a typical high school kid. She was a goalie on the NMRHS field hockey team, played ice hockey with the Nashua Panthers and was a goalie on the NMRHS lacrosse team. She was thinking about trying out for the boys hockey team next year and planned to get her license in February. Now, all of that is on hold.
Olivia likes school and got good grades. She also has a job, working at the pharmacy with her mom, and looks forward to going back to work. They’re holding the job for her, she says.
Friends and family have been great through all of this, Olivia’s mom, Claudia, says, and she didn’t have to cook a meal for two months because of all those helping hands. Claudia tries to be with her daughter almost every day. Friends walk the family’s dogs. She couldn’t say enough about the help she and her family have received while they focus on Olivia’s care and rehabilitation.
The Boston Bruins are big supporters of the Rehab center located behind their ice rink and donated a lot of the equipment in the physical therapy room that Olivia uses. When they heard about her love of playing hockey, the Bruins gave her free tickets to two games. She said it was a thrill.
Besides John, Olivia has two other brothers, Terrence, 20, and Lucas, 22.
Her family and friends have all been visiting her at Spaulding Rehab and she seems never to be alone.
She also gets help keeping up with school work, including classes at Spaulding designed just for her. Bill Pothier, head of the science department at North Middlesex Regional High School, has been making trips into Boston to help her with her classes.
Olivia says she’s trying to get her mind and body back into shape but does not sleep well and still has a lot of trouble walking. When she got to Spaulding, she was in a wheelchair but now she uses a walker. Her legs shake when she moves them to walk but her physical therapy coach pushes her right to her limits before she lets her rest. As a result, Olivia has made great strides in her recovery.
“Just getting to the dinner room to eat or taking a shower is still really hard work for her,” says her mother. “But we are very proud of her.”
Olivia has been on the same Relay for Life team for the past five years and they want her to be there this year, too, even if she can’t walk yet. But everything is tough for her these days. She has to get her confidence back.
She said she’s learned how fast you can lose that confidence, lying in bed for so long. She said she has moments of happiness and moments of sadness. She wakes in the middle of the night, having nightmares about the accident.
But she has since returned home and was back in school the Tuesday after April vacation.
Olivia says she is different now and knows that life can change in seconds. She holds no grudge for what happened to her and is just working hard to get back to normal, as much and as soon as that is possible.
With luck, by this time next year, she’ll be talking about her first season playing with the boys hockey team.