When accidents happen, lives can change in an instant. That was true for Rachel Smart-Ganousis, but the journey she began was so profound it even inspired her future career.
In August of 2005, at the age of 17, Rachel was thrown from the back of an ATV and suffered a traumatic brain injury. She was flown to Mercy Hospital Springfield, where pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Sami Khoshyomn had just started working.
“At the time, I felt her brain injury was likely to be neurologically devastating,” Dr. Sami remembered. “Patients with her type of injury usually end up in a persistent vegetative state.”
Despite the odds, Dr. Sami knew there was room for recovery. “He was the only doctor who gave my family a glimmer of hope,” Rachel said. “He encouraged them to take everything day-by-day and celebrate even the smallest improvements.”
Once Rachel woke from a medically-induced coma, she and her family began the long road to recovery, beginning with post-traumatic amnesia and short-term memory loss. “It was the middle of September when my speech therapist was rolling me in off the patio and I remembered I’d forgotten my grape juice,” Rachel said. “From that point on, I started to regain my memory and eventually had no lasting effects on my cognitive abilities.”
But her body had a long road to recovery. “The entire left side of my body suffered temporary paralysis,” she said. “I pushed through four weeks of inpatient rehab at Mercy, then 12 weeks of full-time outpatient rehab at Ozark Neuro Rehab.” She did it all while catching up on the school work she missed so she could graduate from high school on time, and kept at her outpatient rehab for another three years.
These days, she still has some residual paralysis on her left side, “But nothing that keeps me from considering myself 100 percent healed.”
Now that she is healed, she’s giving back to Mercy as an analytics manager for ROi (Resource Optimization and Innovation), the supply chain Mercy founded more than a decade ago. She leads a team that identifies opportunities for saving money on medical supplies.
“I shadowed Dr. Sami, I knew I wanted to work for Mercy and make an impact on someone’s life just like he had on mine,” Rachel said. “Originally, I planned to be a doctor, but I just didn’t have the stomach for it. So I switched into business mode and decided I would work for Mercy in a different capacity someday.”
The two have stayed in touch over the years. “I do my best to update him on all the milestones in my life, like getting married and job promotions,” Rachel said. The most recent accomplishment she shared was being named as one of the St. Louis Business Journal’s 30 under 30.
“She brings a smile to my face every time I hear from her,” Dr. Sami said. “I know I have no right to be, but I am so very proud of her. Patients like Rachel are the reason for not giving up on people even as all hope seems lost. I constantly remind myself that the next patient with a bad head injury could do as well as Rachel. Patients like her make it all worthwhile.”
The admiration is mutual. “Dr. Sami was such a perfectly timed blessing to my family and me,” Rachel said. “His humble and kind bedside manner helped put me at ease whenever he visited my room. Mercy is so lucky to have Dr. Sami as part of their team.”