Stepping toward graduation: LaPlace teen defying recovery odds on way to diploma walk

Published 12:10 am Saturday, February 10, 2018

LAPLACE — Doctors thought 19-year-old Mia Matthews of LaPlace would never communicate, smile or open her eyes following a catastrophic vehicular accident six years ago.

Mia has defied all odds in the years since, fighting tooth and nail for her recovery.

In May, she’ll accomplish the impossible when she takes slow but purposeful steps across the stage at East St. John High School’s commencement ceremony to grab her diploma.

It’s a rite of passage for most teens. For Mia, it’s a symbol of resilience.

“I’m tired of being like this,” Mia said, tearfully. “The only way I’m going to get to where I want to be is working hard and doing stuff I want to do. Walking on my own and working an actual job anyone can do has always been my dream.”

Recovery has been a long uphill battle, and Mia sometimes doubts her abilities to accomplish her goals.

Mia’s aunt, Donna Matthews, has helped her every step of the way. Having previously been hospitalized for a life-threatening illness, Donna feels a special connection with her niece. Mia’s mother, father and step father also serve as support systems in her life.

Her aunt, Donna Matthews, has been by her side for the entire process. Having been hospitalized for two years for a life threatening infection not long before Mia’s accident, Donna has a special connection with her niece.

“We both beat death,” Donna said.

“We both met God when we were in the hospital and saw that bright light, like a lantern with fire in it. I’ve been by her side ever since. I’ll never leave her side.”

For a long time, Donna carried guilt following Mia’s accident because she was the one who convinced Mia’s mother to let her go shopping and out to a movie that day.

While crossing Airline Highway with a group of neighborhood children on the way back from the LaPlace movie theater, 13-year-old Mia darted across the roadway as the light changed from red to green.

She was struck by a vehicle, thrown in the pathway of an SUV and left with a broken right arm, a pelvic fracture, a broken leg and severe brain trauma.

Donna said Mia’s head has swollen to the size of a watermelon by the time they found her, and doctors had to drill an iron rod into her skull to relieve the pressure.

Mia was left in a vegetative state for months, and it took a full two years for her to leave the hospital.

Donna Matthews helps Mia Matthews put on her splint to straighten out her arm. Each week, Mia attends physical and speech therapy when she’s not in class at East St. John High.

She had no memory of the collision, and memories of her life before are a bit foggy.

“I remember some things,” Mia said, referencing family and childhood experiences. “It takes a while for my brain to get to it.”

When speaking, Mia talks slowly and somewhat low in tone, but the accident did not impair her sense of humor or ability to hold conversations.

Each Thursday she attends physical and speech therapy, continuously working to improve herself. When she comes home, she bathes herself, dresses herself and sometimes cooks before working on a variety of exercises.

When she’s not at physical therapy, Mia attends classes at East St. John High School. She’s in the special education program for students with disabilities but still switches between classes to learn various subjects.

She said God has been a constant inspiration in her life, giving her strength to work hard.

Aside from graduation, Mia is looking forward to attending her senior prom, where she’ll dine on delicious food and offer a dance to her mother, Meryl Roussel.

Mia Matthews sits in her bedroom in front of her “Faith” poster.

“I just want to take her by the hand and drop the tears I’m going to drop,” Mia said. “My mom never gave up on me. No matter how aggravating it can be, she’s always known in the back of her mind that she has to help me.”

Donna said Mia’s mother is loving and extremely protective, and she’s lifted Mia into her arms on many occasions despite her daughter being much taller and larger than her.

Mia’s father and stepfather, Kendrick Williams and Gleason Roussel, are also positive forces in her life, and they’ve each escorted her to parties and dances.

With the progress Mia has made and the walker she was once so reliant now only a safety precaution, Donna believes the sky is the limit when it comes to her niece’s future.

“She loves anything with children or food, and she loves God and the church,” Donna said. “I think with savings, she can open her own business.”

The family is planning a fundraiser to send Mia on a girl’s trip and fulfill her desire to travel.