A young woman’s decision to drink and drive last summer hijacked the senior year of a Wichita, Kansas, teenager. No one could have predicted the accident, but Chantel Johnson felt a nagging, mother’s intuition. “All day she kept asking me if I was okay, and I didn’t understand it, but I do now,” her husband, Lemuel Ford, said. “It’s a day I will never forget.”
On Aug. 19, 2018, their son, BriLei Ford, was a passenger in a car hit by a suspected drunk driver who ran a red light. The high-speed impact shoved the car door on top of 17-year-old BriLei, nearly crushing him. Rushed to Wichita’s Wesley Medical Center, he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, internal bleeding and underwent emergency pelvic and bladder surgeries. BriLei suffered severe injuries to his spleen, kidney and liver, along with lung failure. His family kept vigil as machines pumped life and nutrition into the teen’s battered body. BriLei emerged from a six-day coma unable to breathe or eat on his own.
Two weeks later BriLei was admitted to Madonna’s Lincoln Campus, unable to walk and struggled with brain fog. “One of my first memories was them [nurses] picking me up out of my wheelchair with a lift,” BriLei said. His limited mobility and cognition frustrated the basketball player and honor student. Each day the young athlete pushed himself to surpass his therapy goals. Within six weeks, BriLei was shooting baskets from his wheel chair as part of Madonna’s adaptive recreation program, transferring himself in and out of his wheelchair and solving algebra equations in the Therapeutic Learning Center.
“I had a great support system—family, nurses, therapists—everyone keeping me going.” The teen bonded with other patients and celebrated their progress, too. “I met a lot of kids that had been through worse things,” BriLei said. The morning he discharged for home, the young Kansan’s T-shirt expressed his appreciation in bright blue words: “THANK YOU MADONNA.”
BriLei’s parents are grateful to have their son back. The accident and his recovery left a lasting impact on their close-knit family. “It’s forever changed our lives; BriLei is our hero, the family’s VIP,” Lemuel said. It’s been an emotional journey for BriLei. In May, the 6-foot-4-inch survivor proudly crossed the stage to accept his high school diploma. He’s excited to start college this fall. “I will never take life for granted.”