Doctors said she wouldn’t wake from a coma for 30 years and she proved them wrong

She woke up 2 years after going into a coma

Doctors told the parents of then 17-year-old Heather Campbell that their daughter would be in a coma for at least 30 years after a devastating car accident. She proved them wrong.

DETROIT – Doctors told the parents of then 17-year-old Heather Campbell that their daughter would be in a coma for at least 30 years after a devastating car crash.

Her injuries were so severe that doctors told her family that she would not be able to open her eyes for at least three decades.

She proved them wrong. This year would have marked 30 years since the doctors said she wouldn’t wake up.

Campbell turned 47 this year, but her party was a bit sweeter this time around.

“I remember the week beforehand,” Campbell said. “I had just finished the play called Sound of Music. I was one of the nuns and the lead at the ball, and life was pretty good. I had just turned 17 and had no real cares in life.”

Everything changed in just a matter of days as the vehicle she was driving crashed.

“I suffered a traumatic brain injury along with several broken bones,” Campbell said. “My face was crushed. I have metal plates in my face.”

Campbell spent nearly two years in that coma. When she opened her eyes for the first time, she didn’t recognize herself.

“Half my hair was missing, and this side was cut to here, missing teeth; I don’t remember what happened, and I could only move this arm,” Campbell said. “Everything else was crippled up. My legs didn’t work or anything. It was pretty awful.”

Although she had woken up, she said that she would pray every night when she would fall asleep that she would be able to wake up whole.

“Inside, I was crushed,” Campbell said. “Yea, I would always have a smile on my face, but inside, it was not fun. I wanted to wake up whole at and at home. I wanted to wake up before all of this. I wanted it to be a dream. I was a 17-year-old kid.”

The idea of being whole is a relative term. Campbell spent the last 30 years shedding the darkness and finding her light. Yes, her body was locked, but her neither her mind nor her spirit was trapped.

Yes, her legs could no longer pirouette, but her fingers could, which is why art has become one of her most essential therapies.

Every time she painted on that blank canvas, she began to come alive and fully awake. And in the blink of an eye, she had lived a full life.

“I got married. I have a daughter now,” Campbell said. “She is almost 21, can you believe it?”

“It’s an accomplishment. It’s a release as I am making the world more beautiful,” Campbell said.

Campbell spent all of 2021 celebrating the anniversary year of when the doctor said she might wake up.

“It was a wake-up party,” said Campbell. “It was like friends from church, and we just had a good time.”


About the Authors:

Paula Tutman is an Emmy award-winning journalist who came to Local 4 in 1992. She's a Peace Corps alum who spent her early childhood living in Sierra Leone, West Africa and Tanzania and East Africa.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.