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Love's Long Road to Recovery

Md. Man Chronicles Wife's 'Miraculous' Path From Brain Injury

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 14, 2005; Page A01

Maria Pattakos doesn't remember the walk she took that morning in October. She cannot recall crossing the street in the bright sunshine, or seeing the big, white pickup truck that suddenly seemed to loom from out of nowhere.

She doesn't recollect pushing the baby stroller from the truck's path at the last second, and has no memory of being flung into the air, losing her hat and sunglasses, and smashing down to the macadam, splintering her ribs and collarbone and fracturing her skull.

During her long recovery -- which includes occupational, physical and speech therapy -- Maria Pattakos is visted at the hospital by husband Arion, left, and relative Harry Doukas, who brought her a teddy bear. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

Four months later, she has trouble remembering what day of the week it is.

So her husband has been writing it all down.

The first days after the accident were a blur of pain, tears and prayer as his wife lay unconscious in intensive care at Suburban Hospital. On the fifth day after the accident, Arion Pattakos, 71, started writing. His story opens on Sunday, Oct. 17.

"This is day five," he begins. "I decided to keep a log starting today to, well, record your status and mine. . . . I am proud of your deed but devastated emotionally, given what happened to you."

Arion Pattakos's "log" is an account of his wife's accident, and all that has happened since, with the hope that someday she might know what she has missed, and what both of them have endured.

As he writes, seasons change, holidays and birthdays come and go, world events unfold. "We are all waiting for you to join us," he notes.

It is a chronicle of one couple's encounter with a catastrophe: "Sweetheart, I am scared," he writes on a bleak day in late October. "Why have our lives turned to such a horrible path? . . . I sometimes see myself curled into a little ball in our bedroom on the rug. I . . . wither away and decompose into a pile of dust. A puff of wind comes and just . . . blows me away."

And it is a love letter, written over more than 120 days, by a retired Army colonel to his wife of 23 years. He is bereft, and helpless. "Mary . . . you are everything to me and my ability to survive without you is not very good. So, help me live by coming back to me."

Maria Pattakos, 60, known as Mary, remains in the brain injury program of National Rehabilitation Hospital in Northwest Washington, where she was transferred from Suburban Hospital.

She has made what her husband calls a "miraculous" return from the twilight state in which she lived for weeks after the accident -- attached to hospital life-support systems, unable to walk, or talk, or even squeeze his hand.

She walks on her own, if unsteadily at times. She breathes and eats on her own, engages in conversation and shows sparks of humor. Yet she has trouble focusing, remembering people's names and recalling where she is.

Her brain still is struggling to handle the avalanche of data that a healthy brain can process daily, and it might be many months before her recovery is finished.

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