Peterborough

‘Never say never; never give up’

Peterborough native overcomes brain injury sustained in 1992 motor vehicle accident

  • Jennifer Field has overcome brain injuries caused by an auto accident to become a motivational speaker<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Jennifer Field has overcome brain injuries caused by an auto accident to become a motivational speaker<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Jennifer Field has overcome brain injuries caused by an auto accident to become a motivational speaker<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Jennifer Field has overcome brain injuries caused by an auto accident to become a motivational speaker<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Jennifer Field has overcome brain injuries caused by an auto accident to become a motivational speaker<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

Jennifer Field says she was a typical high school senior in the fall of 1992 — carefree, crazy about horses, excited about her success as a competitive equestrienne, and probably not the most cautious of drivers. The 17-year-old Field left Dublin School to drive home to Peterborough on Nov. 17 in the midst of a snowstorm.

“I was speeding on 101 and hit black ice,” Field recalled last week. “I skidded, and spun sideways into an oncoming tractor-trailer.”

Field said she suffered a diffuse closed head injury, one of the most severe types of injury because it affects the entire brain, which is moved within the skull during the traumatic event. Field doesn’t recall a lot of the accident, but she knows she went through the driver’s side window. She was rushed to Monadnock Community Hospital, then taken, in the midst of the storm, to Concord Hospital, where drugs reduced swelling in her brain. She was then transferred to Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital in Salem.

“I was basically in a deep coma for a month, and slowly emerged,” Field said. “I remember waking up, looking at a wall and thinking ‘Where am I?’ Thank God my mother was there. She gave up her entire life to be with me. She was going to find every possible treatment.”

Field said she and her mother, Joanne Field, share a very determined outlook. After six months at Northeast, Field was transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for treatment, and she and her mother went back and forth regularly between Chicago and Peterborough.

“My mother turned our house into an exercise studio,” Field said. “I had to learn how to walk, how to talk. I had to retrain myself to learn how to use my right arm.”

During one of those visits to Chicago, Field recalls, her mother spoke to a doctor and mentioned how much progress Jennifer was making.

“He told her she didn’t understand,” Field said. “He said all my improvement would be made during the first year, and that would be it. But I’m a competitor. I told myself this is just like being in another horse show and I’m competing for the blue ribbon.”

Field set targets for herself. She vowed to walk onto the plane without the help of a cane when she left Chicago, and she did. She had already finished her academic requirements at Dublin School at the time of the accident, and in May she was able to walk at the school’s graduation ceremony.

“I wanted to be normal,” she said. “I still thought I’d be getting back on a horse. Finally I realized that I wouldn’t.”

And Field moved on, to Wheaton College in Massachusetts, where she majored in art history, graduating magna cum laude in 2002. She continued with various types of therapy all through her college years. She had a wonderful roommate during her freshman year, then lived in single rooms.

“They were great at Wheaton,” she said. “They were willing to help me in any way they could.”

Field lived in Boston for a while after college and went to cooking school in France, where she found that was not the right career for her. Then she moved to California, where she studied yoga and took up painting

Field said she had periods of depression for the first time after she moved west.

“It was a time to work on myself,” she said. “I did movement every day. I was painting. But I said, ‘I don’t know where my life is going.’”

Three years studying at the Ruskin School of Acting in Santa Monica helped Field cope with her emotions.

“I found I could bring my disability into my acting,” she said. “I was able to just be me.”

One of her teachers suggested that she put her story into words, and Field did that, writing and performing a one-woman show called “A Distant Memory.” Now that show has evolved into the basis for motivational talks that Field presents 10 or 12 times a year for the JField Foundation, a charity she’s organized to raise funds to help children with brain injuries, many of whom can be helped by a range of therapies that aren’t covered by insurance.

“I want people to have hope,” Field said. “I can’t tell you how many people with injuries I run into who are just sitting around. I’m so competitive, I want to win.”

Field said she highlights several life lessons in her talks: “Never say never; never give up.” “It’s a blessing in disguise.” “Progress, not perfection.” “Find your path; turn your head in another direction.”

She said applying those lessons has been key to her recovery. It’s been a 20-year process so far and it will never be over. Field, who is now 38, walks cautiously and speaks slowly but clearly. She says she won’t be riding horses again and she’ll never drive a car. But she lives independently in Santa Monica, gets back to see her mother in Peterborough regularly and says she’s made noticeable progress both physically and emotionally in the last few years.

“I think performing the show and speaking have been an amazing aid to my recovery,” she said. “You have this trauma and talking about it releases some of the trauma. I try to be truly honest.”

She said she tries to mix humor with tragedy in her talks.

“A guy I dated in college wanted me to go rollerblading,” she said. “We did, and I tore a ligament in my knee. He broke up with me a few days later. I said, ‘I wish you’d told me before I put on those rollerblades.’”

Field has come to terms with her disabilities and wants to help others do the same.

“This is going to be my life,” she said. “It will turn into other things. A huge part of my recovery was positive thinking: Things will work out. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Field and her mother are working on a book together and she’ll be speaking twice in the area this fall, in September at the Mariposa Museum in Peterborough and in October in Stamford, Conn.

Contributions to her JField Foundation may be made to P.O. Box 5, White Stone, VA 22578, and information about the foundation and Field’s speaking engagements can be found at www.jenniferfield.org.

Field believes everything happens for a reason.

“I realize how lucky I am to be alive,” she said. “I was strong enough and able to deal with what happened to me. Now I want to give people hope.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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