Twenty-five days after getting hit by a car while riding her bicycle, Meadow Graham sat in her family’s SUV. As they got off of Interstate 57 at Manteno, a fleet of police cars turned on their lights and sirens and escorted the family home.
At home, a large crowd of family, friends and first responders waited for the 13-year-old girl. A banner brandishing Meadow’s name hung on the family’s home.
“Everyone was at my house,” Meadow said with a shy grin. “They were videoing me. I didn’t know how many people would be here, but there were way more than I expected. They all care.”
On July 10, Meadow and her friend, Alana Semashko, were riding their bikes home after trying to get ice cream. Meadow tried to cross Division Street when a vehicle in oncoming traffic struck her bike. The driver was not cited for a traffic violation.
Meadow, who was not wearing a helmet, flew over the vehicle and hit her head. She was transported to the emergency room at Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee and then airlifted to Loyola Medical Center in Maywood. She sustained a traumatic brain injury and fractured eye socket, as well as cuts and bruises throughout her body.
“We couldn’t believe it,” said Meadow’s mother, Stephanie Graham. “Even my dad broke down in the hospital. You think the worst because she looked the worst. Her eyes were swollen. There were all these tubes everywhere. She was cut up. It was horrible.”
Meadow woke up from a medically-induced coma two days after the crash. She didn’t remember the crash, nor did she feel any pain aside from her scraped up knees.
“The first thing she asked for was her cellphone,” her father, Scott Graham, said. “That’s when we knew she was going to be alright. Ever since that day, she has gotten better and better.”
After nine days at Loyola, Meadow was transferred to the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab to begin occupational, physical and speech therapy. Doctors believe her background in gymnastics prevented further damage from the crash.
“The doctor told us that because she is a competitive dancer, she was so flexible and strong,” Stephanie said. “If it wasn’t for that, she probably would have had broken bones.”
Throughout Meadow’s stint in the hospital, the Manteno community showed its support. Community members created a meal train that sent food to the family every day Meadow was in the hospital. Some community members made monetary donations. Meadow’s dance team made cards and shirts declaring their support for #MightyMeadow.
When she woke up from her coma and retrieved her cellphone, Meadow had more than 300 notifications from text messages, SnapChat and iMessage.
“I can’t believe how much support there is in this community,” Scott said. “People we don’t even know were sending us food to the hospital every day. It’s such a special place to live.”
The Graham family didn’t even expect the police escort when they got home Aug. 3. Stephanie realized it was a police escort when an officer pulled out in front of the car.
Then, they saw the fire trucks and crowd of people waiting at home. That was when Meadow met the paramedic who tended to her the day of the crash, as well as a person who witnessed it. Manteno Fire Chief Scott O’Brien then gave Meadow a medal for being a good patient.
“Manteno is a tight-knit community,” Mayor Tim Nugent said. “If you don’t know the person, you know their family. Everyone was so happy when she came back. So, we wanted to send a message. When something bad happens, the community is behind you. When things get better down the road, we don’t forget about you.”
On Thursday, Meadow got cleared to begin her eighth-grade year at Manteno Middle School on a part-time basis. She still has to complete three hours of therapy every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Her doctors hope to have her back to normal by Oct. 11.
In the meantime, the community has been busy improving biker safety in Manteno. The Kankakee County Highway Department recently added a crosswalk near the Manteno Public Library.
Next week, the village will install flashing lights and signage for bicyclists. The Manteno Police Department also plans to hand out coupons for a free ice cream cone to kids they see wearing helmets.
A family friend is preparing flyers that display Meadow’s before and after photo to inspire kids to wear a helmet. They also are planning a biker derby for September that will focus on teaching bike safety.
Meadow received her helmet this week. She can’t wait to return to dancing and acrobatics. She plans on getting back on a bike again.
“I’ll get on a bike again in a little bit,” she said. “The doctors told me I am at the level of an average 13-year-old. But, they said that’s not good enough. They want me to be back to my average. We’re going to do that.”