Jacqui and RJ Pierce
Rev Randy Brown: Would you welcome RJ and Jacqui. Okay, well, welcome to Manchester.
Jacqui Pierce: Thank you.
RJ Pierce: Glad to be here.
Rev Randy Brown: I understand your mom and dad were married in this church in 1977.
RJ Pierce: That’s what they tell me. I wasn’t there.
Rev Randy Brown: All right. Well, let’s get on with the story. RJ, would you just walk us through the accident and the injuries that Jacqui suffered?
RJ Pierce: Yeah, sure. I’m a teacher. I was one of the ones that was standing up a second ago. I tell this story to my students every single year as a story of hope and encouragement throughout the year. It really reaches a lot of the kids that I teach, which are the underprivileged kids, the ones that grew up in the projects and things of that nature because they deal with a lot of adversity all the time. I always start off by explaining what exactly happened to her, but I don’t tell her how I know her. They just think it’s just some random person. They don’t realize it’s my wife until later on in the story.
Essentially what happened, and I like to tell this too because she really doesn’t remember much of that day. We’ll get into it.
August 9th, 2004. It’s been 12 years now. It was the first day of her senior year of high school. She was at Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro. On that first day they typically have a little two hour abbreviated day where you walk around and see all the classes you’re going to have for that year. And, so, this was that day. Two hours after she got there, she saw all of her friends and all of her teachers she was going to have. She was excited about the year. She was captain of the dance team that year. In a very large school she was a very popular girl. I think they’ve got over 2000 students, 2100 students there. It’s a very large school.
Later that afternoon, her friends from down the street came down to her house. By the way, she is one of six children. One of her younger sister’s friends actually came down with a moped and said, “Hey, let’s all take some rides around the neighborhood on this moped. If you don’t know what a moped is, it’s like a motorized scooter, like a motorcycle but it doesn’t get up nearly as fast as that. Basically what happened is that her and all of her friends started taking joy rides on this moped. When it finally got to her turn, she decided, “Hey, let’s you and Lizzie,” her second youngest sister, they decided, “Let’s take one last joy ride before we put it up,” because she actually had a date later that night with her high school boyfriend, not me by the way.
They said, “Yeah, we’ll take you one more spin around the neighborhood, and then we’ll come back, I’ve got to get ready.” They went on one last ride. One of the worst things that you can do at the children’s church, there’s a really good segue into this testimony, by the way, talking about wearing helmets, as a football player-
Jacqui Pierce: Protecting ... What do we protect ourselves from?
RJ Pierce: She and her sister did not wear a helmet that day. Actually, they didn’t bring helmets down with them. None of them were wearing helmets. It’s a moped. You don’t think you can get going very quickly on one of those things. What happened was on the way back ... Normally when I’m doing this I’m standing up. I’m a little bit more walk around kind of guy. They were coming around some corners through the neighborhood, and they got up to about 45 miles per hour on this moped, which is probably tough to get out on a moped, if you asked me.
They were coming around one last corner before they get back to their house. Jacqui was driving. Her sister, who was 13 at the time, she was 17 at the time, she lost control coming around that corner and went down into that ditch that’s in the front yard of some people’s yards where the water will drain off into. When they hit that ditch, it launched both of them off the moped. Her sister, who was 13 at the time, lasted on a nice big soft piece of grass. She got a bad concussion from it. She ended up in the ER for a few days, but nothing terrible.
Jacqui wasn’t so lucky. She ended up going face first into a Bradford pear tree, about 45 miles an hour without a helmet on. She had multiple contusions all over her body. She had a completely crushed left wrist. I’ll use you as a guinea pig here. As you can see, she can’t open and close that hand because of where the bones were shattered in her hand. It cut through all the nerves in that wrist. That’s part of why her hand doesn’t open and close. She had a compound fracture in her left femur. If you’re not familiar with compound fracture, it’s not a fun thing to experience. It’s when the bone is literally sticking out of your skin.
When she hit the tree, and again I don’t want to ... I try to say this because I know there are kids in the audience too. Essentially she hit so hard that her face detached from the rest of her skull. Her eye sockets turned to powder. Bone disintegrated like that. That’s how hard she hit.
Jacqui Pierce: They took one of my ribs to rebuild eye sockets.
RJ Pierce: Do you want to say that?
Jacqui Pierce: They took one of my right ribs to rebuild eye sockets, because of that.
RJ Pierce: Her face actually contains nothing but metal alloy and rib. That’s one of the facial reconstructions she did.
Immediately after the accident, they actually had no idea what had happened back at her house. It took them a while before they saw a helicopter coming in and were wondering, “Where’s Jacqui at?” Well, if you ask her dad, he was on the football field. He was a coach at Riverdale. He got the call from his son, her brother, saying that Lifeline was landing and that they were landing in the backyard right down the street, and they were going to have to fly her up to Vanderbilt. They all got there, and they could see blood rushing out everywhere. They could see that this was truly a life or death situation. They had to do an emergency tracheotomy, which is where they stick the tube down your throat so that you could breath because everything on her was starting to swell up from all the impact that she’d had.
From the location that the accident happened to Vanderbilt is about a 15 minute helicopter flight. She died twice on that helicopter on the way to Vandy. They had to shock her back twice. When she got to Vanderbilt Hospital, the initial 13 hour surgery, that they took her back into the ER and started working on her to fix everything that was internally bleeding and what not, she had two strokes in the right side of her brain, which caused the left side of her body to go deficit. The really unfortunate thing about this is that she is also left handed. She’s predominantly left handed.
A combination of the stroke and the shattering of the nerves in that hand keep her from being able to use that left hand. She’s had a total of over 56 hours worth of surgery. That’s over two days worth of being under the knife now. She’s had three facial reconstructions. We were actually about to do a fourth facial reconstruction this summer. Then we found out we were pregnant with our third child, so we weren’t able to do any more. We’ve got two in the nursery in there, and one on the way. Pray for us.
That was the initial accident. She was in a coma for six weeks after this. On the 11th day after, her parents had to make that decision, “We’re going to take her off the ventilator. We’re going to see if she can breathe on her own.” It’s one of those things where at this point your body is either going to live or your body is going to die. Obviously, she started to breathe on her own when they did this. That’s got to be a tough, tough situation for a parent to say, “All right, I’m signing this,” because you don’t know what your signing really. You’re completely delirious. They haven’t slept in two weeks, and you’re signing away, literally, your child’s life at that point. Are they going to live or die?
After the 14th day, they started to bring her out of the coma, but she wasn’t completely out for six weeks total. They flew her down to Children’s of Atlanta. I think it’s called the Shepherd Center now where they work on brain trauma patients. Because she hit the tree with her head so hard, she had severe brain bleed. They had inner cranial blood pressure that was essentially, you and I sitting here in this room, the pressure inside our head is in single digits, around one or two or three. If you get up into the double digits, 10, 11 and 12, you’re starting to get into life threatening situation. Her spiked as high as triple digits at some point, into the hundreds.
The pressure inside her head was so great they had to cut a hole inside her head to relieve some of that pressure. She had inner cranial bleeding, which actually killed off some of the brain. If you’ve seen an MRI of the inside of her head, there’s only about 50% of her brain left in her body, but it has completely rewired itself to where she’s able to talk and walk and do everything. Change diapers one handed. She’s amazing with that. She even went to MTSU. She’s not quite done there. We started having babies in the middle of that, so she’s taken a hiatus. With half a brain in her head she’s maintained a 3.7 GPA at MTSU, and she’s got two more semesters, I think. That’s one of the things I really tell my students every year, because they all have been told their entire life that they’re not worth it. They don’t have half a brain in their head. I said, “Well, my wife literally has half a brain in her head. You can do this. Trust me.”
There were two other accidents that happened actually on top of this one. Four years after the accident, Easter Sunday of 2008 ... I promise I’ll give you back the mic in a second. Easter Sunday of 2008, after church she’s riding horses with her dad. Horse riding is part of a rehabilitation for lots of people that have head injuries. It helps them regain their balance and things of that nature. Her dad owns a horse farm, so they love to go horseback riding. They’ve been plenty of times since the accident. Well, they’re horse riding, and all of a sudden something spooks the horse that she’s on. Is that Dallas? Her horse named Dallas.
For one reason or another, it decided to start galloping and bucking really, really hard. It freaked out that she was on top of her. It bucked so hard that it threw her off. She actually, Jacqui will probably tell you later in a second, that she tried to jump off the horse, but it’s really hard to do that when you have a 2000 pound animal. You’re at that animal’s will at that point. She hit so hard when she landed on the ground though, even though she hit a piece of grass and it wasn’t really hard, but it hit hard enough to tear open some scar tissue from the original accident four years earlier. That ripped a hole in her stomach, so all of the insides of her stomach, stomach acid and everything, was pouring out into her guts, so they had to do another emergency surgery.
I will never remember this because I was in the picture at this point. I remember them wheeling her back at Middle Tennessee Medical Clinic up there in Murfreesboro. I could hear her gasping for air. If any of you have ever been punched right there in the gut where you lose your breath, that’s about like she was trying to get her breath back. It felt like that to her. It wasn’t just, “Hey, let’s get her back there.” It took a good hour before she was in surgery, so for an hour she couldn’t get her breath in. Imagine that feeling of being punched in the gut for an hour. They had to take her back for emergency surgery. They were able to clean everything up and get her taken care of there.
The last thing that happened was in June of 2009, literally one week before our wedding, seven days before we were about to walk down the aisle. We’re sitting there, hanging out at night. The side of her left femur, where that scar is, they put a nice big 11 inch rod in her leg to support the bone. It started to bubble up like there was a baseball underneath her skin. I touched it. It was feverish to the touch. We didn’t know what was going on. I said, “We need to go to the ER and get this checked out.” Sure enough, it was MRSA. If anybody has ever heard of staph infection or MRSA, that stuff is not something you play with. If it gets in your bloodstream, you’re dead within 24 hours. It bubbled up to literally about the size of a baseball underneath her skin.
When they rushed her into MTMC, then they rushed her up to Vanderbilt for the actually emergency surgery that her original trauma surgeon did five years earlier. At one point I remember him coming out to me saying, “We may have to cut her leg off.” This is a week before we’re getting married. We were thinking about our honeymoon and having all of our friends and family in. Now we’re thinking, “Oh gosh, she might have to lose her leg.”
They went in. They took out the 11 inch rod that had been there supporting her leg for the last 5 years. They cleaned out all the bone as best they could with antibiotics and got all the MRSA out of it. Then they came out and told me she’s going to be fine. She’s going to be sore for several days. She’s going to have to go through some physical therapy, but she’ll be fine. She’s not going to lose the leg. The next morning … so that was about 11 PM at night that she had the surgery … 5 AM the next morning she’s buzzing the nurse to come into her room, saying “Get me out of this bed. I’m walking down the aisle in seven days. I’ve got to walk around here. I’ve got to going to used to this.” She’s stubborn. Determined. That’s the politically correct, determined. She was walking around. She had literally just had emergency surgery on her leg, and they had her walking around that hospital so she could walk.
The really cool blessing with that part of it was that the day that she walked down the aisle, seven days later, was the first time in public that she had walked without a limp because that rod had caused a limp in the way she walked for the five years before this. So, the first time she got to show everybody that she didn’t have a limp anymore was our wedding day. That was a really neat experience for us. That’s all of the injuries that she’s had.
Rev Randy Brown: Tell us real quick, and then we’ve got two other ... How did you all meet?
RJ Pierce: Do you want to take this one?
Jacqui Pierce: Sure. RJ and I met. The accident happened in 2005. We met in 2004. RJ walked into my life, was it spring of 2005?
RJ Pierce: Yes.
Jacqui Pierce: Spring of 2005. After I was in Atlanta, I was discharged about Octoberish time of year. Christmas is creeping around the corner, and I’m thinking, “Here I am, sitting at home in this new body that I’m not really sure how to use yet”, because everything had just been completely changed for me in the blink of an eye. Basically my mom said, “Hey, if you want to try to make a little extra income, why don’t we start making some of grandma’s coffee cakes, and you can sell them to your therapist and see if any of your friends want to buy them. I’ll help you bake them. I’ll help you deliver them.” I have a wonderful mother who is super supportive. Just really poured into my life so much; read me Scriptures, constantly reminded me of the redemption that Jesus had brought in my life even though I didn’t feel like there was.
When you’re 17, your senior year of high school, you have all these plans set out for your life. You’re thinking, “I know exactly what I’m going to do, where I’m going to go. I’m going to go to college. Maybe away, maybe not.” I had these great plans set for my life. In my head I thought, “Man, I really have their made. My life is great. I love high school.” I was excited about the teacher. Well, when August 9th, 2004 happened, everything changed. I didn’t realize this until after the accident … I had to really dive into Scripture to bring healing about in my life … I didn’t realize that what the Lord really had for me was so much better than any plan that I had ever imagined for myself. Jeremiah 29:11 is my big hoorah Scripture that I love to recite. I feel like it was written in the Bible for me. “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.”
At 17, when that happened, I was like, “My life is over. Everything is ruined. How can I come back from this?” Luckily, coming from a family with such faith and Christ centered parents, they constantly reminded me of who I was in Christ, and that praise God that I was alive, and “Jacqui you died twice”. “You realize that Jesus saved you for a purpose.” After I got a little of the bitterness under my belt, I realized instead of asking, “Why me? Why this? Why this time? every day, I realized I was going to start searching for my own answers. Where better to search for the right answers than the Bible?
I just started searching. I started searching for God’s promises of what He had for me, because I thought, “What else could go wrong in my life? Nothing else can go wrong.” It’s got to go up from here. I started searching and finding these promises of God that just said, “Be still. Know that I am God. Know that my plans are great for you.” I just started clinging to Scripture, falling in love with Scripture and realizing that Jesus is my savior, and that He has saved me from such a traumatic, horrible thing. I was so blessed. I was just so overjoyed to really go through it. RJ had said my little sister was on the back with me. Thinking about had that been reversed, had I been on the back, had she been on the front, it’s very possible she may not be here.
I’ve always believed there’s purpose in everything. Everything happens for a reason. I really just had to come back to grips with, “Okay, Lord, what is your plan for me? Even though I’m not exactly excited about what happened, it’s a little uncomfortable. It’s not really what I planned, but I’m willing to open my hands and eyes to what you have for me.” So that’s where my healing started to begin. RJ walked into my life right in the midst of that, which for me was a train wreck. I was like, “Who are you?” This 22-year-old. He was 21-years-old. I was like, “Gah, this is just a mess of a person.”
I posted online this blog that was named JacquiMac.com, basically to update how I as doing post-accident, what life was bringing me, how everything was going. I liked to encourage with Scripture or whatever I could on my blog. It became my outlet to write and to do that. It was originally formed to update people on the accident period, what was going on with me and such. My dad had started it, and I took it over when I was able to.
I kept getting these posts after I said I was making these cakes. I live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. If anybody would like to order them, I would love to make you one. My mom and I will deliver it for you if you would like one. Message me and let me know what you like, and I’ll get it to you, or I’ll contact you. Basically I kept getting this post from McMinnville, Tennessee. He kept saying, “I’d like to order two cakes. I’d like to order a few cakes from you.” I kept thinking, “I’m not going to send anybody in McMinnville cakes. I’d have to send it through the mail. It will be old. I don’t know if it will still be whole.” It just made me nervous. I didn’t really pay much attention to it. Then I got one more, third, response from this McMinnville post. It said, “I’d like to order two cakes from you. I do not live in Murfreesboro, but my son, RJ, does. He goes to MTSU. Here’s his number. Give him a call. He’ll take my order and deliver them to me.” I thought, “All right, cool. That’s what I’ll do.”
I called RJ that night. I just said, Hey, I’m Jacqui. I think your dad wants to order cakes.” Pretty much we made that order pretty quickly. We winded up meeting at the rec center parking lot at MTSU that next Thursday or some day. I gave him the cakes. Then pretty much like every two weeks or every week after that I kept getting this order from RJ saying, “I’d like to order two cakes. I’d like to order two cakes.” I’m just like, “What is going on? This guy likes a lot of cakes. That’s crazy.” I would give them to him. He’s like, “My roommates just won’t stop eating them.” I was like, “All right. That’s cool.” It was making me a little cash, and I had no problem with that.
Pretty much I feel like the fourth time we saw each other, I gave him some cakes. He asked me if I was involved in any ministry. I thought, “Well, that’s kind of odd for a 21-year-old guy to ask. Not many guys are into or care about ministry.” I actually was at the time going through Young Life training, if any of you have ever heard of Young Life. It’s a great ministry to basically tell high school friends about the Gospel and share Jesus Christ with them. It’s really cool.
Basically, I told him I was involved in that. We did training at this time here. Sure enough, that next time he was there. Then the next meeting he was there. I kept thinking, “Gah, this guy keeps showing up everywhere I am. It’s kind of weird.” We just started off this beautiful friendship. RJ just really started loving me as a friend. Not that my other friends hadn’t from high school, but they were off in college. I felt left back in Murfreesboro, alone. He just really loved on me in just a wonderful friendship way. It was just a beautiful thing for me to experience.
RJ Pierce: It was a beautiful thing for her. It took her three years before she agreed to a date. Three years. It’s all matter of perspective. It ended up well.
Rev Randy Brown: Jacqui, I want to ask you, what was the hardest thing about all this time, the last 12 years. The hardest thing about the accident or hardest thing that you had to go through?
Jacqui Pierce: I think, really what wasn’t hard. I feel like I’ve taken so much away and realized so many things. Honestly, after I started going through some spiritual healing in my own life from the accident, I realized that God had given me this burden, this trauma, and I don’t know that ... Obviously I didn’t like it at first. I realized that the Lord knew that I was strong enough, where I was spiritually, where I was emotionally, physically to be able to endure the accident. First Corinthians tells us …it’s one of His promises, “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man. God is faithful. He will not give you anything more than you can bear. If he does, he will provide you a way to stand up under it.”
I remember coming across that Scripture during my time with Him. I just can remember thinking, “He is going to provide a way for me.” I think the hardest thing, really for anybody that goes through struggle or trial, is really figuring out how to let go of that control that we as humans, we so much want to just keep our control on everything. To let go of that control and basically “let go and let God”. Realizing that I am not God. He has the plan. I’m to trust what he has set for my ... Really, that Jeremiah 29:11 verse, just realizing that He has the plans for my future. That I don’t.
Over time I’ve realized that, like I said, I have received so many blessings from the accident. RJ and I would have never met had the accident never come because he would have had no reason to order cakes from me. We would have never met. The Lord orchestrated things for my life in such a beautiful way. I’m so blessed. I feel you can’t really receive and accept blessing until you’ve really gone through struggle. I know everyone probably in this room has gone through struggle in some way or another. Maybe not to the magnitude of what I have gone through. I know everyone has in their own way. I think just realizing that trusting the Lord. Just being at your hands and feet, looking to him for the answers. Searching the Word for what He has, I think, is what is so important.
RJ Pierce: Her dad has told me several times about her time, when she was going through rehab. She had to learn how to talk again. How to swallow. You put water in her mouth, and it would just dribble out. Her brain had forgotten how to do all that. He had to teach her how to walk again. He’s told me several times about how he literally had to get down on this indoor track. He’s an old professional football player, played for the Dolphins. He’s got that never die, never quite attitude. He would be down on this track. She’d be in this huge contraption holding her up. She had no use of her legs at this point. He would pick up this foot and move it. Pick up this foot and move it all the way around that track. She’s told me this several times, saying, “After a few laps she was exhausted.” She would, “I’m ready to stop. I’m ready to stop.” He would make her do one or two more laps. It’s just that never quit attitude.
God allowed this to happen to the perfect family. They are such a tight knit group of people. They are grounded in their faith, and they have that “not ever going to quit” attitude, that “can’t die” attitude. I mean, like she said plenty of times, this was orchestrated for a reason. One of those reasons, and Don, her dad, has told me before, that the very first time that he was able to take a shower after the accident, because he literally came off of the football field. He was in his coach’s uniform and everything at Riverdale. He came off the uniform, went straight to the hospital. Went down to Atlanta with her. It was literally two weeks after the accident before he was able to get away. He wouldn’t leave her side. Two weeks later, I think everybody in the family said, “Go take a shower. You stink.”
He went to the Ronald McDonald house nearby and got in the shower. This is one of the coolest parts of this entire story that he tells me. He was alone by himself in that room. There was nobody else in there. He heard somebody talking to him. He’s in the shower, taking a shower, finally getting just a second to talk with God. He’ll be honest with you. He goes, “I was angry at God. I was very angry.” He was sitting there saying to himself, “Why did you allow this to happen to her? Why?” As any father would, as anybody. I would sit there and say, “Why did you allow this to happen to my baby girl?”
He heard a voice as clear as I’m talking to you guys now. He said, “Sue, is that you Are you in here?” Sue, his wife. He peeked outside. There was nobody else in the room at all. Then he heard it again. It said clear as day, it said, “She sleeps so that others will wake.” This is at the time that she was still in her coma. That’s why he felt like she’s going to be all right. She’s in a coma for a reason. She’s here for a reason. What is this reason. It’s been a journey to figure out why that is. I just thought that was one of the coolest parts of this entire story, was hearing that message from the Lord.
Rev Randy Brown: I want to ask you one other question. Y’all shared this with me two weeks ago. When they got to the point of signing the papers and stuff, somehow word got out, and there was an army of Riverdale warriors that showed up at the hospital.
Jacqui Pierce: Oh yeah. If you’ve ever been to Vanderbilt Hospital, the entire first and second floor were just filled with Riverdale alum, friends, teachers, coaches. There were at Vanderbilt, there are a lot of other people that go to Vanderbilt besides the people that were there for me. A lot of them asked the police, “Can you get these people out of here?” Literally those army of warriors, prayer warriors we call them, were literally just praying, just asking God for grace and mercy, asking him to redeem this.
They told my parents that first night, “Your daughter is the sickest one in the trauma unit. We’re not expecting her to make it through the night.” They told them that for 11 days. That’s when my dad signed the release to take me off the life support. Then my body started to breathe on its own. If you ever question, does the Lord still do miracles? I mean, He does, and I’m a testament to that. I don’t doubt what the Lord can do. He is a God of all things, the big and small things. I’m so blessed to be able to sit here and talk to y’all about it and just praise the Lord every day as a new gift because I take each and every day as a gift because of that redemption.
RJ Pierce: On that note, there were at one point over 1000 people from that school alone and from the community that were in the hallways of Vanderbilt. Just crowded in prayer circles. All these kids just praying and praying and praying. Like she said, the cops were actually called because there were so many people there. Other, I guess you’d call them patrons, other people that were there to visit other people in the hospital were complaining that there were so many people. Your dad told me. He said the cops came up to him and said, “They’re not doing anything wrong. They’re just praying for their friend. We’re not going to take them out of here.”
Actually, because of her accident, they re-designed the entire Vanderbilt lobby, waiting area, so that people would have reclining chairs and spots to pray and things of that nature. I mean, she’s touched a lot more things than you would think. This story and this accident have touched a lot more things than you would think. Her and her dad have lobbied for Life Flight. They’ve gone and spoken to senators and congressmen about getting more funding for the Life Flight program and things of that nature. It’s a blessing in many, many different ways.
Rev Randy Brown: Well, thank you all for being here. Thank you for sharing and letting God shine through you. All right.
RJ Pierce: Thanks for having us.