Written by Anna Ferraro
Dense fog. Palpable darkness. A night that will forever live in the vivid memory of the Brown family – February 4, 1991. When their oldest daughter, 19-year-old Dionne Brown, a sophomore at Lincoln Land Community College, was driving home, a drunk driver going 80 mph hit Dionne’s car in a violent head-on collision. For young Dionne Brown and her tight-knit family, life was never the same again.
A bright young woman, Dionne Brown had hopes of being a courtroom stenographer. In addition to knowing sign language, she played the piano and was a phenomenal typist – boasting a speed of 130 words per minute. But that night, her dreams were crushed as she laid under the weight of her car – surrounded by thick, dark fog. In the accident, she sustained countless injuries including four pelvis fractures, broken ribs, shattered facial bones, broken arms and legs and a severe brain injury. Her family was told that she would not live. If she did live, she would be vegetative.
Ten days after the accident, Brown was still alive – defying all odds. Her mom began taking pictures, saying, “I knew that when she got better, she would want motivation to see how far she had come.” Having been an overachiever all her life, Brown didn’t see any reason to stop with a major car accident. For endless days, her life hung by a thread as she drifted in and out of a coma.
Then one day, in her fragile, almost lifeless condition, she began to attempt to communicate with her family. As the days passed, and Brown was transferred out of the intensive care unit, they saw her trying to finger spell to them. Small movements and subtle facial expressions showed something miraculous – Dionne Brown was not only alive – there were significant parts of her brain still functioning!
After thirteen months in the hospital and rehab facilities, Brown’s family brought her home. Her mom, Vicky, shares, “When she came home, she was still very affected … we just kept pushing her.” Ronnie Brown, Dionne Brown’s dad said, “We took a piece of cardboard and wrote the alphabet on it. Then, we would hold her elbow up. She would take her finger and point to the letters, to get spellings for words, in order to communicate with us.”
Together, the Brown family did all they could for their daughter. Taking her to Slidell, Louisiana, for various therapies and treatments, then to Carbondale, Illinois, for continued treatments. Slowly, she began to regain cognitive function.
In the beginning of 2014, the Browns found Kristie Maro, a personal trainer, who was at that time employed by Anytime Fitness. With her 18+ years of experience, they discovered that Maro was uniquely equipped with creative ideas to help Dionne Brown improve her ability to become more flexible and active.
Maro says, “The doctors assumed that as Dionne got older, all her ambulation and dexterity would decrease. I am trying to keep it so that she can still ambulate and do some things, even though she does need assistance.”
As time passed, they all began to notice sometime incredible. Instead of Brown’s strength and flexibility decreasing as the years go by, her strength is remaining. Maro says, “She is still able to do lots of things, so we’re trying to get her to maintain the muscle mass that she has. We don’t want her to atrophy in any way.”
After working for two years together at Anytime Fitness, Maro began meeting Brown weekly in her home to do workout sessions together. It’s not just beneficial for Brown, Maro shares, “She motives me more than I motivate her … we all make excuses for why we don’t want to do things … she has every excuse not to want to work out, and yet, she does anything I ask her. It is so cool how hard she is willing to push herself.”
Hence, there’s a mutual perseverance going between them. Maro says, “I’m trying to give her a different social outlook on what she can do. When we work out, I try to keep it upbeat and fun.” And because of that, “She looks forward to moving, even though it hurts.”
Designing a special chair with ropes and bands in which Brown can work out, Maro equips her with everything she needs to stretch and do strength training. Vicky Brown comments, “Since working with Kristie, Dionne has started walking more and sitting up straighter.”
Maro says, too, “It’s so cool to see what she’s willing to do, even with all that she’s been through. I’ve never seen someone so motivated as Dionne is. It makes my day just to see her.”
Today, Dionne Brown presses on. With her family’s help, she has lived the fullest life possible, and enjoyed many wonderful experiences, including being the Illinois representative for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) at a national convention, being welcomed as a special guest by Secretary of State Jesse White in his Springfield office, being featured on TV commercials, making public service announcements and speaking with her sister, Rhonda, in local schools on behalf of MADD. Even on hard days, her smile is still as hopeful and beautiful as it ever was, and she’s never lost her witty (and sometime dry!) sense of humor. She loves her family, her friends, shopping, playing Bingo, the lottery and the lively dice game – Bunko.
But if you ask her, one of her favorite people is Kristie Maro, her personal trainer, and one of her favorite things to do is to work out with Kristie. They’ve got an incredible partnership going, and each week, fueled by a mutual perseverance in both of their hearts, they keep going – together.