At 17, Alisha was charismatic, outgoing, and vibrant. She was known to be helpful, kind, and a good friend. Work always called her first when they needed someone to fill in and friends always called her when they needed a ride. Alisha was looking forward to attending the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and becoming a pharmacist. However, in February 2010, two weeks before her 18th birthday, Alisha was in a severe car accident. Her car hydroplaned and landed upside down in the rain-swollen Stones River. Her car was trapped under water, causing her to go without oxygen for nearly an hour. The heroic efforts of several drivers and nearby residents flipped over the car and secured it in place until the ambulance could arrive.
During Alisha’s stay in the hospital, her mom, Angie Sterry, never gave up hope. Angie stayed in Alisha’s room in the MICU unit day and night to be near Alisha. In March 2010, Alisha was moved to the Shepherd Center’s Acute Brain Injury Center.
For the first few weeks, Angie did not leave her room except to shower and change clothes. Staff at the Shepherd Center trained Angie to be able to care for Alisha long term. Finally, after many months in the hospital and in treatment, Alisha was able to return home in July 2010.
Now 21, Alisha is more full of life and vibrancy than ever, but faces a lengthy and unknown recovery with continued therapies for the rest of her life. Because of the accident, Alisha’s lungs were damaged from multiple infections. Her heart rate, body temperature, breathing, blood pressure and medicines have to be monitored because of the anoxic brain injury she suffered. Alisha cannot talk, has difficulty swallowing, and is fed by a tube. Alisha is also confined to her bed or wheelchair. Miraculously, Alisha has full mental awareness of her surroundings and can communicate through texting. Angie says that Alisha sends her texts throughout the day telling her how much she loves her. They even have a game, and have for most of Alisha’s life, where they see who can tell the other “I love you the mostest” first in the morning.
Angie describes Alisha as “one of a kind” and “the most vibrant, vivacious, loving person she knows.” Alisha loves to shop, listen to music, and play with the two family dogs that protect and love her. Alisha recently celebrated her 21st birthday and when asked what gift she would like, she stated, “I want to walk again.” Though, Angie adds, Alisha has never once cried because she is confined to her wheelchair. She carries on with her head held high.
Because of Alisha’s medical needs and therapies, Alisha requires the help of private duty nurses and therapists. Her greatest advocate, however, is still her mom. Angie, a single mom, cares for Alisha day and night and works full-time in communications, which she has done for twenty years. Without the nursing hours that TennCare provides, Angie would not be able to work, which would leave both of their needs unmet.
When Alisha first returned home after her accident, Angie slept in a recliner beside Alisha’s bed at night because she requires suctioning and turning around the clock. She did this until nursing care was provided in the home.
Angie has literally devoted her life to Alisha’s care, saying, “Keeping her at home, keeping her alive has been my primary focus.” She adds, Alisha “is my life, my purpose, what I get up for, and what I work for.” Because Alisha requires total care, her nursing and the care Angie provides are her lifeline. Now that Alisha is 21, her eligibility status has changed and she faces possible cuts in her nursing care. If her nursing hours are cut, Alisha’s health will likely deteriorate. Angie has been working hard to ensure that Alisha maintains the care she needs to be able to stay at home safely.
Angela contacted the Tennessee Justice Center when she needed support continuing Alisha’s TennCare benefits and services past her 21st birthday. Angie said, “With the help of TJC, I can continue being a better advocate for my daughter. I don’t have to fight alone.” We are grateful for these kind words, but is hard to imagine how Angie could be a better advocate given the love, dedication, and support she provides for Alisha.
Angie’s hopes and dreams for Alisha are for her to grow and fulfill her greatest potential. Angie relies on her faith and prays that Alisha will go back to school one day and get her pharmacy degree. She knows that with Alisha’s personality, her compassion, and her story, she could be a powerful agent for change and good.
When Angie was told she was being honored as a Mother of the Year, she remarkably said, “I never dreamt of anything like this. I’m just a mom who loves her child.” She continued by saying “We’re grateful to so many people. I’ve had so many wonderful people that have helped me along the way.” Angie’s sweet humility, profound love, deep knowledge, and relentless advocacy are just a few reasons we are honored to call her a Mother of the Year. We are so proud to be able to stand with Alisha and Angie.