published Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Becoming Scout: Signal Mountain teen's recovery makes every day Christmas in Beam household

Scout Beam points to her neck  at her home on Monday. Beam suffered a traumatic brain injury during a car wreck and has made a remarkable recovery so far.
Scout Beam points to her neck at her home on Monday. Beam suffered a traumatic brain injury during a car wreck and has made a remarkable recovery so far.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
HOW TO HELP

Since Scout's accident, the Beams have had to adjust to becoming a single-income family, while also adapting to additional therapy and skilled help costs. If you'd like to financially support the Beams, visit Scout's profile on the online fundraising site at www.youcaring.com/lovedgirl.

  • photo
    Scout Beam looks at a picture of the car she was in after it wrecked.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
    enlarge photo

Scout Beam flips through the scrapbooks on her kitchen counter, scanning page after page filled with photos of friends and family.

The 17-year-old turns to a page where a photo of one of her high school friends smiles up at her.

"Did I not remember her?" she asks her parents. "Hmm. That is weird."

She keeps flipping the pages, then pulls one out.

"You have pictures of Dad in here!" she exclaims. "Did I not remember you, Mom and Dad?"

"We think you did," says Scout's father, Daryle. "We thought we were familiar to you."

Scout keeps scanning the scrapbook, then settles on a photo of a tall girl with long, blond hair and a radiant smile. She stops.

"Why are there pictures of me?" she asks. "Did I not know who I was?"

"I think we were just trying to put familiar pictures in front of you," answers her mother, Amber. "We did it all the time. All the time."

Scout pauses a moment.

"Whatever you guys did -- it worked."

Scout remembers everyone in those photos now. But she doesn't remember the hours her family spent showing that book to her, holding photos up to her open -- yet vacant -- blue eyes.

The scrapbooks were pieced together by friends and family this summer, as Scout was in the hospital, slowly emerging from a coma: awake, yet unable to talk, walk or even show expression.

She had become the shell of the bright 11th-grader who played softball, loved art and had begun doing some modeling.

That girl vanished on May 5, in the back seat of a red sedan that crashed into a pole and tumbled down a hillside on Signal Mountain, coming to rest next to a swollen creek.

The two other girls in the car called for help and held the unconscious Scout, who was pulled from the car with shattered bones throughout her body: neck, scapula, collarbone. Her spleen was torn.

And her brain had been violently jostled, resulting in what's called "diffuse axonal injury" -- a traumatic brain injury compared to shaken baby syndrome, one that can cause unconsciousness or death.

Doctors at the ICU in Erlanger hospital said Scout's MRI was grave. She may never walk again, talk or smile.

"They warned us that she would probably not be the same Scout we knew," Amber said.

•••

After two weeks in the ICU, the family learned that Scout had been accepted for treatment at the Shepherd Center, a renowned Atlanta rehabilitation hospital specializing in traumatic brain injury.

Though she was still not "awake," Scout was thrust into therapy.

She would stand in a harness. She learned to move small pellets of ice around in her mouth and kick a soccer ball.

Still, Scout was not present. For nearly two months, her face remained expressionless.

It soon came time for the Beams to leave the Shepherd Center. They could not move on with the therapy until Scout reached the next stage of responsiveness.

The day the family was getting her ready to leave, Amber moved close to Scout and asked, "Are you ready to go home?"

Scout leaned into her mother, as if she was hugging her with her head. She cracked a smile, and then her lips formed one word: "Home."

Very slowly, Scout began reacting. And she began remembering.

Though she couldn't talk with the breathing tube, she began asking questions: How was she? Was Barack Obama still president?

Her parents documented every single milestone: Laughing. Smiling for photo. Sitting up in bed. Brushing her teeth.

"I didn't know how to brush my teeth?" Scout interjects as her parents recall the past few months. "That is crazy."

"You had to learn to do everything again," her dad said.

"It was like something you would have seen in biblical times, when there was a healing and they're just repeating, 'I can talk, I can talk! I'm talking!'"

— Daryle Beam, Scout's father

Meanwhile, the Beams' community rallied around them. Friends and family helped care for Scout's brothers, Ben, 10, and Sam, 11. Neighbors they had never met brought meals or made donations. Someone built a wheelchair ramp.

A friend created a Facebook community support page for Scout, called "Loved Girl." More than 2,000 people subscribed.

Scout returned to the Shepherd Center in late July for more intensive therapy. She slowly began walking more. The family canceled their order for a custom-made wheelchair, and now hopes to donate her ramp.

"We push on, work hard and look hard to find every little miracle," Scout's mother wrote on the "Loved Girl" page. "I don't plan on letting even one go unnoticed."

In November, Scout's breathing tube finally was removed -- allowing her to talk for the first time in half a year.

"It was like something you would have seen in biblical times, when there was a healing and they're just repeating, 'I can talk, I can talk! I'm talking!'" her father describes.

On a video filmed at the hospital that day, a smiling Scout is chattering -- hoarsely, but with gusto.

"Can you hear me? I'm talking, it's my real voice!" she says, before breaking into a country song.

Her family was in tears.

•••

November brought another milestone, when Scout returned to start her senior year at Signal Mountain High School.

She's auditing classes and taking assessment tests. She takes art, and continues therapy there.

  • photo
    Scout Beam holds up an advertisement for notecards, sold to help raise money for her recovery.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
    enlarge photo

In January, she will start a more full-time schedule. But she has to pace herself. She gets headaches easily, and her brain becomes more jumbled and overwhelmed as the day wears on.

"It's like you've run a marathon in your brain," her mother explains to her. "Your endurance will get better."

After graduation -- still planned for May -- Scout has said she wants to learn more about how to work with people with traumatic brain injuries.

"I want to tell them, 'Don't give up,'" she says.

Scout has a ways to go herself. She is still working on reading comprehension and memory retention. She still has to learn how to drive. Full recovery could take years.

But the family celebrates every development. As Scout's brain has healed, her personality has remained intact -- her sense of humor; her ability to laugh at the family's inside jokes; her artistry.

Scout can also recall traditions. When she says the family will be having its "normal" Christmas, her mother quizzes her as to what that is. Scout recites the visits they will pay to different family members.

"It is a terribly special Christmas," says Amber. "We just didn't know if she would be present with us this Christmas. If she'd be awake to enjoy it and wrap things and bake cookies. ...We got a second chance with Scout."

"I don't know that it's just a Christmas thing," adds Daryle. "Every day is like Christmas because ..."

"It's special," finishes Scout.

"Yes," says her dad. "To see the hand of God at work. ... To stand back in awe and watch it all happen -- it is an incredible gift given back to us every day."

Scout begins describing the gifts she got for her family, and dad puts his hands on his ears to keep it a surprise.

"I don't think I got Sam and Ben enough," she says.

Her mother reaches across the couch to touch her daughter.

"You are enough," she says.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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