May 05, 2016
By this time last year, Temple University senior Rachel Hall had finished her finals and was on the cusp of walking in graduation, receiving her diploma and venturing off on a career path that would start at police academy in Washington, D.C.
Those plans would be put on indefinite hold, however, when the then-22-year-old lacrosse player was struck by a hit-and-run vehicle as she rode a bicycle near campus.
The driver – Rashan Roberts, 18, who was using a learner’s permit at the time of the crime – would turn himself in when an arrest warrant was issued days later. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 11-to-23 months.
What ensued for Hall and her family were days, weeks and months of uncertainty. Initially, they faced questions about whether Hall would survive. Then, once the perilous first 72 hours after a brain injury passed, their minds shifted to quality of life. Would she be able to walk again? Talk again? Be Rachel again?
As Rachel remained on life support at Temple University Hospital on May 9, 2015, her mother Kathy accepted her diploma on her behalf at graduation.
But today – after a year of grueling physical, occupational and speech therapy – the young woman who fought back from near-death, and continues to battle lingering hurdles, will walk at the College of Liberal Arts Baccalaureate Ceremony herself at Liacouras Center. She will do the same at the Temple University Commencement ceremony on Friday morning.
“Rachel had been given a 20 percent chance of survival [because of the] brain injury and a torn right carotid [artery]. It was devastating. There was a lot of crying. We were fearful. When she would come out of a coma, we didn’t know, and if she did come out of it, we didn’t know how her future would be.” – Kathy Hall, Rachel's mother
These moments will come days after Rachel visited her old high school in South Jersey and Temple’s campus in that cap and gown to reconnect with friends and former teammates. They will also be ceremonial moments that stand as a testament to the human spirit.
PhillyVoice spoke with Kathy Hall this week to get a better sense of what her daughter – and entire support network – has been through since since that fateful Wednesday night not far from Broad and Diamond streets.
“Rachel had been given a 20 percent chance of survival [because of the] brain injury and a torn right carotid [artery],” Kathy recalled of those perilous days one year past. “It was devastating. There was a lot of crying. We were fearful. When she would come out of a coma, we didn’t know, and if she did come out of it, we didn’t know how her future would be.”
Rachel did wake up, though, after two-and-a-half weeks.
After 24 days at Temple's hospital, her mother by her side around-the-clock, she was transferred to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Center City, where she would spend the next 91 days relearning the motor skills and more that she’d lost in the process. (Disclosure: The author was also treated at Magee for injuries stemming from a hit-and-run incident.)
On Aug. 21, 2015, Rachel returned home to Mullica Hill, but still continues a five-days-a-week outpatient-rehab program.
“She’s still working on everything, progressing at her pace,” Kathy Hall shared. “There’s no final timeline [for full recovery]. She wants to get back into the Washington D.C. police academy. When she has a job, career and bright future, I would finally assume she’s fine. She’s handling it, though. She’s very determined to work through this and get on with her life.”
Regarding last year’s graduation ceremony, Kathy Hall said Rachel didn’t realize she was missing it at the time since she was still unconscious.
“For me, it was heartbreaking,” she said. “She was right at the finish line to get her diploma. Being in the hospital, not knowing what the outcome was going to be, this was a 22-year-old whose whole life had just been taken away.”
When Rachel’s path to recovery became clearer, she was buttressed by an outpouring of support from family, friends, teammates and even strangers within the Mullica Hill, Temple University and lacrosse communities.
“It was very heartwarming that people who didn’t even know my daughter were praying for her, and had her in their hearts,” Kathy Hall said, noting that her daughter does not remember anything about the incident.
With medical bills topping $1.4 million and the ongoing need for outpatient therapy, supporters have set up a YouCaring fundraising page on Rachel’s behalf. Congratulatory notes can be sent to P.O. Box 307, Mullica Hill, NJ 08062, as well.
Physical therapy and the driver’s upcoming parole hearing will be far from Rachel’s mind on Friday morning, though, as she walks a walk in the cap and gown that should have been worn last year. While it's largely ceremonial, as she's already graduated, it means the world to the Halls.
“She’s really excited. She’s really happy to be walking with friends who were juniors last year,” Kathy said. “It’s a significant turning point for her, as well. She still has some difficulty with things, but to see how far she’s come from last year, getting her diploma is a nice way to celebrate.”