Yaffe overcomes obstacles

by Amanda A. Amann | 6/12/94 5:00am

After recovering from a near-fatal accident, Lisa Yaffe '93 can proudly claim the distinguished honor of graduating twice from Dartmouth as an undergraduate.

In August of 1991, Yaffe's sophomore summer, she was turning a corner on her bike when she was struck by a truck carrying a house and traveling at 55 miles per hour, she said.

"It is ironic to say I was lucky because it is not lucky to get hit by a truck, but there was such a lucky string of circumstances working in my favor," Yaffe said.

She was wearing a helmet when she was caught between the bike and the truck's grill, and two trauma physicians happened to be in a car behind the truck and helped sustain Yaffe when she suffered one cardiac arrest at the accident site and another in the ambulance.

Yaffe awoke from a coma after five weeks, having incurred brain damage that doctors believed would prevent her from completely regaining her mental and physical faculties, she said.

"I think my parents were so strong ... to have to hear such horrible things about their pride and joy," Yaffe said.

She spent nearly a year in rehabilitation, regaining her speech and basic motor skills.

"My balance is still not as stable as it was, and I have lost the hand-eye coordination required in team sports," said Yaffe, who was a lacrosse recruit. "But I am lucky because so much has come back to me."

In the fall of 1992, Yaffe returned to Dartmouth and even ran a half-marathon in May "only a year and a half after being in a wheelchair," she said.

Soon after the Class of 1993 elected Yaffe to lead the class at Commencement as a Class Marshall, even though she was still one year behind in credits.

This year, Yaffe will receive an official diploma, but she will watch the ceremonies with her parents rather than walk again.

The return to college life was not easy . "I required more sleep that I had previously," she said. "Just when everyone else was getting ready to go out, I had to go to bed."

Yaffe said the support of the faculty and administration was overwhelming. She was given a reduced course load and a note taker and was allowed to take exams untimed.

Yaffe plans to be an occupational therapist, after having been both at the receiving end and the giving end of such treatment. While volunteering at a therapy department near her home in Pennsylvania, Yaffe received what she said was the ultimate compliment when a patient told her she was "truly inspirational."

Yaffe said she always says the same thing when asked what she learned from her experience. "I used to always worry about tomorrow, and, now, I realize you have to worry about today because you can never know what might happen tomorrow."