Harriet Ronaghan overcame the odds and a three-month coma. Now she has been named the latest recipient of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Honorary Alumna Award.
In 2007, Ronaghan was set to start classes at KPU when she was involved in a horrific car crash. She and her brother were in the car with their mother driving when they were t-boned by a dump truck. The accident left Harriet with a traumatic brain injury that involved emergency surgery and a five per cent chance of survival.
“I had to relearn everything: to stand up, walking, talking,” she says.
At 18 years old, she spent 10 months in the hospital relearning all the basic skills. Although she was sent home in a wheelchair, Ronaghan only used it three times.
When she went back to Royal Columbian Hospital, she met the father of a young teenager who had been in a motorcycle accident and was in a coma. The boy’s father learned that the year before, Ronaghan had been in the same hospital bed where his son now lay.
“The way he thanked me and called his wife right away and told her about me – that was the moment I decided I needed to write a book. The accident was awful, but my story can help people.”
She was already documenting her therapy to help process her thoughts and feelings. Ronaghan compiled her experience into a book, You Are My Sunshine: The Journey through My Recovery of a Traumatic Brain Injury.
“Harriet is the epitome of the word Kwantlen, which means ‘tireless runner’,” says Dr. Alan Davis, president and vice-chancellor of KPU. “She has shown that despite the adversities she’s had to face and overcome, her determination and strength have prevailed. We are proud that the KPU Alumni Association has named her an Honorary Alumna.”
Ronaghan has worked hard over the years to get to where she is now, and her journey isn’t over. She has a different walking gait and her speech is slower than it used to be. She also becomes fatigued easily.
“At the beginning, I thought I was going back to school to pursue my writing, but I realized after years of recovery and therapies that I can’t do that,” she says. “My fatigue is too severe and that’s something I’ve had to come to terms with.”
In 2017, Harriet and her husband celebrated the birth of their first child, Charlie. They are now expecting their second child.
Ronaghan has shared her story with rehabilitation centres, physiotherapists and others. In 2019, she was the recipient of the Coast Mental Health Courage to Come Back Award in the physical rehabilitation category.
“We are so proud to confer Harriet with an Honorary Alumni Award and by so doing welcome her into our KPU alumni family. Her story of strength and tenacity in the face of great adversity is certainly an inspiration to students, alumni and the whole KPU community,” says David Dryden, chair of the KPU Alumni Association.
Ronaghan will be presented with the Honorary Alumna Award at a future convocation ceremony.