Accidents always happen when you least expect it: it’s why they’re called accidents. Often, they’re as simple as a fender bender and an insurance claim, but sometimes one flap of the butterfly’s wings can twist fate entirely out of our control.
Zaida was 19 and she had no idea what it was like to straddle that uneasy line between life and death. How could she at that age? Yet the course of her whole life would be thrust into that terrifying place in the blink of an eye, thanks to an unforeseen and life-altering accident…
The details of the accident are sketchy in her memory. She hears the wheels skid and can smell burning rubber. Acrid smoke hangs in the air, mixing with the tangy chemical smell of gasoline and engine oil. Somewhere, Zaida is bleeding, though she doesn’t know it. In an instant, she will fall unconscious, and she’ll forget it all.
She didn’t know it at the time, but Zaida had been hit by a drunk driver. The head wound she sustained, a subdural hematoma, was so grievous that she fell into a coma. She was bleeding between the surface of her brain and the membrane covering it and was in a coma that measured 8 out of 15 on the Glasgow Coma Scale. But Zaida doesn’t know any of this…
Need that Kick
At the neurological level, a coma is like a very deep sleep. The brain, which is still alive and mostly intact, lies dormant when the victim is in a coma, in a persistent sleep-like state. It was like Zaida’s brain was on sleep mode, waiting for something to kick inside her. Meanwhile, her family watched on helplessly from the sidelines, hoping for the best.
Zaida was unresponsive to light, sound, and all verbal communication from even her closest friends and family. Even her boyfriend couldn’t seem to reach her. Even if she had been aware, she was incapable of responding. For the next ten days, Zaida remained as she was, somewhere between life and death, when suddenly, it all changed…
What she remembered of the time in the coma were dreams of her family surrounding her all at once. Even though they were all rarely present at the same time, she felt their love and support at every opportunity. Ten days after the accident, Zaida woke up, but even then her memory was foggy and the following seven days were another blur.
The scar that sits on Zaida’s chin today is from the same accident with a drunk driver. If you asked her about that time, or the moment herself, she won’t tell you much. She doesn’t remember much of anything about that day. What she does remember is the struggle she underwent afterwards that led her to the full, successful life she now leads…
Speak, Walk, Swallow
Seven days after her miraculous awakening, 19-year-old Zaida Khaze was transferred from the intensive care unit to a rehab hospital. The amount of damage she had sustained in the accident was significant and she had only the rudimentary verbal and motor skills of a baby. She would have to learn to swallow, speak, and of course walk, all over again: and that wasn’t going to be easy work.
Above all else, Zaida Khaze was a fighter. It took her only a few weeks to relearn the basics. She could walk, talk, and eat again, though her voice didn’t sound nearly the same. It was raspy, almost breathy when she spoke, and the doctors attributed that to the brain damage. Weeks later, Zaida still suffered with short-term memory impairment and that was hardly the most egregious cognitive damage she had to deal with….
Zaida recalls the test she took at the time. “When I was given tests for my brain level, I remember feeling so down that I couldn’t remember the name of a pyramid based on a picture or many simple words. I would describe it on such a macro level as being triangular, but I couldn’t remember simple stuff like the word for pyramid.”
Tiring to Learn
School was no different. The whole process of learning felt foreign to her now. It was also, as she described it, exhausting. She could no longer do things last minute as she had for most of her life. Now, she had to make sure she took her time with assignments, because they would take her time whether she liked it or not. Even reading was an exhausting task for the college girl…
“It was a very scary time for me because I couldn’t estimate how long things would take me to do anymore,” she explained many years after. “I lost so much control of myself with the traumatic brain injury.” Still, she was not going to let it beat her. She worked hard, studied harder than she had in her life, and managed to keep passing her subjects.
Five years after the accident and Zaida was still tired. This time though, it wasn’t studying or school that was tiring her, but therapy itself: an activity she had been engaged in pretty much round the clock since the day she woke up. Instead of being helpful though, the constant therapy was beginning to make her doubt herself…
Constant therapy was making Zaida feel less than whole, which was the opposite of how she should feel. She decided, against the advice of all her specialists, to move from her hometown in Canada, to one of the most stressful, fast-faced cities in the world: New York. Only her cognitive therapist supported her choice, but she did it anyway.
Finding that Balance
Then, nearly 15 year after the accident that almost claimed her life, Zaida Khaz began to feel like herself again. She had adapted to her new normal, her struggles, her new location, her new life in general. And though she still had some hormonal imbalance and certain cognitive struggles, she was more herself than she had been in decades…
Against All Odds
Against all the odds of life and brain damage, Zaida had built herself a truly remarkable life. She married the man who she was dating before the accident: the man who stood by her side the whole time. Together, even though the doctors told her she’d never be able to give birth, the two had two lovely daughters together.
Belief in Oneself
Zaida firmly believes that it was her belief in herself that helped her push through. “My belief in myself was greater than any medical diagnosis or specialists opinion,” she says. She even earned her business degree and wound up in direct marketing for start-ups and downsizing companies. Then one day, something happened that changed Zaida’s life again…
Mother of Invention
Zaida and her husband had been invited to a family barbecue and were about to leave when her infant daughter did what infants do and had to be changed. It was 15 minutes before they had to go and just as she was changing the baby a diaper disaster occurred. The wiggling baby had managed to cover herself, the changing pad, Zaida’s new blouse, and her own new white dress with…well….you know…
Zaida was not happy but didn’t get mad about the situation. It was unavoidable and it happened to mothers all over the world. She decided to invent something that would prevent this from happening. She created a washable changing pad with a detachable vest and toys that would keep the wiggling baby both occupied during changing and upright. Thus Wiggletot was born..
Soon, Zaida began to pitch the idea all over the internet via small video clips. Eventually, she got nearly 162,000 views and received her first response from a national magazine a week later. In January of 2015, the magazine editor pitched the Wiggletot and sales began to come in.
“I have learned a lot in this process,” explains Zaida of the whole ordeal that was both her life and starting a business. “I have learned that words alone can’t always describe the size of a challenge to somebody else.” She added that she hasn’t had to change her daughter in several years, but when she see the video ad she made, she remembers how troublesome the process was.