It was in the last few days of August when Todd Robicheaux’s wife Sarah got a phone call from the emergency room at a nearby hospital. Robicheaux thought a friend was playing a joke on them.
The Norco native, who has been living in Anchorage, Alaska since 1990, has a neighbor who is a nurse.
"I thought it was our neighbor – this friend of ours – but it wasn’t, it was really the nursing supervisor," Robicheaux said. "She said, ‘Todd, is your daughter Mary?’ and I said ‘Yes’ and she said ‘well you need to come to the E.R. right now and, by the way, the police are going to want to talk to you.’"
Robicheaux said he was not given any other details about what had happened or why his daughter was in the hospital.
"That drive to the ER was one of the worst drives I’ve ever had in my life," he said. "We were thinking the worst."
Just that morning Mary, a healthy 13-year-old girl, had biked to school as she did numerous days before as part of a training regimen. She was preparing for the cross country skiing event in the Arctic Games, which is an international sporting event held for cold weather areas of the world such as Alaska.
"Her main sport is cross country skiing," Robicheaux said. "She is a very good skier."
It was on her way home from a friend’s house after school that Mary was hit by a car.
Mary pressed the button to stop traffic at a cross walk, but while the car closest to her stopped at the red light, the car in the outer lane did not and ran into her.
"The police officer said he was going at least 45 miles per hour when he hit her," Robicheaux said.
For 45 minutes while Mary’s parents were at home waiting on their daughter, they had no idea that anything had happened until that phone call.
And if it had not been for a single slip of paper in Mary’s school bag, they may not have been contacted until much later.
"She’s 13 and so she didn’t have any identification on her," Robicheaux said. "Someone went through her school bag and found a permission slip that had her name on it and had my name on it because I signed it. From that the E.R. nurse called us."
When the Robicheaux’s arrived at the hospital, Mary was unconscious.
"We get to the ER and they take you in there and they say ‘Mary’s been in an accident’ and they still don’t give you any details," Robicheaux said. "They take you to this room where there are about eight people working on her and she’s got about ten tubes coming out of her body. It was overwhelming."
Robicheaux said he did not know how to react.
"You are kind of in a state of denial, disbelief and shock to see your daughter that way. It just goes to show you how quickly things can change in your life," he said.
For five days after the accident Mary was kept in a medically-induced coma. The accident had resulted in significant trauma to her body including a traumatic brain injury, a shattered vertebra in her spine, two broken legs and torn ligaments in her neck.
"She was wearing a helmet, which we think saved her life," Robicheaux said. "We actually had her in a medically-induced coma when she first came in because she had a traumatic brain injury and they have found that if they put people who have traumatic brain injury in a coma for three days that it significantly reduces the chances of brain swelling."
Since the accident, Mary has been awoken from the coma and Robicheaux said her recovery has begun.
Despite her other significant injuries, the biggest question mark is how the brain injury will affect her.
"What the doctors have seen so far are very encouraging signs. She remembers everybody, all of her friends. She can write still, her language is pretty good. So they don’t think it is going to be significant in terms of her cognitive functioning," Robicheaux said.
Mary has undergone four surgeries so far, including one in which a bone from a cadaver was transplanted and fused into her spine. She will undoubtedly have to undergo further surgeries to repair damage to her skull as well. Although her left leg is still paralyzed from the broken vertebra protruding into her spine, doctors expect her to make a full recovery.
"The doctors think that being such a good athlete is going to benefit her," Robicheaux said.
In fact, doctors anticipate Mary will be able to return to her life as an athlete after she completes her recovery, but for now that recovery is in its early stages.
"There was a period of two or three weeks where it was just really hard not really knowing if I am going to have my daughter back, the one I had before the accident," Robicheaux said. "But it has been getting better."
Mary is now in Denver, Colo. at the Children’s Hospital where she will undergo a month-long treatment and rehabilitation program.
Several of Mary’s relatives who live in St. Charles Parish have put together a fund for her recovery and are asking for local support for their niece.
Donations can be made to the "Mary Robicheaux Donation Account" at any Capital One bank location or checks can be mailed to 550 West Pine St. in Norco.
In addition, on Sunday, Oct. 28 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. the Robicheaux family will hold a benefit fundraiser for Mary at the Knights of Columbus Hall at 375 Spruce St. in Norco just down the street from where the Robicheauxs grew up.
The event will feature food and raffles. Those who would like to attend can call (985) 381-4523 or (225) 673-9449 for tickets.