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How a car crash turned out to be a blessing for Tara

Tara A. Newton (right), shown here with her sister Tiffany Bishop, was in a car crash that turned out to be a blessing. (Photo: Robby Bunk, RMB Photography)
The day of October 8 didn’t portend anything out of the ordinary for Jacksonville native Tara A. Newton.  She woke up, got dressed and headed out to take her cat to the vet. Chrissy, plagued with diabetes and other health issues, had been with Tara for 18 years. After the vet, Tara got in the car, traveling north on AIA to meet her dad for breakfast.  Two blocks from her destination, she reached down to grab something from her purse.

The next thing she knew, she had been pushed 50 feet into the southbound lane of AIA.

“I remember hitting the windshield.” Then she found herself sprawled partially across the passenger seat of her car.

A car crash is probably one of the most trying, annoying events we can deal with even if we’re not critically injured. Tara did need stitches. She said normally, she’d have just got the stitches and “walked out” of the hospital.

Not that day.

The doctors at the hospital ordered imaging, because Tara had suffered a blow to the head. She wasn’t very concerned—“I was just like, all right.” She felt somewhat comforted by the fact she’d played soccer with one of her doctors in an adult league.

Once those images were analyzed, the car crash became a minor concern.

The doctor came into her room to explain the results of the imaging. “When she came in,” Tara recalled, “It was pretty straightforward. She wasn’t abrupt. She talked softly. And she went into the whole explanation.”

Tara had what appeared to be an abnormality in her brain. Doctors thought that abnormality might not be associated with the injury. More testing would need to be done, and more imaging.  Ultimately there would be blood work, visits to a neurologist and another specialist,  spectroscopic imaging with and without contrast, a biopsy. And adding tension to the process, the waiting in between, wondering what the doctors would say each time something was done.

Weeks later, after the biopsy, a doctor approached Tara, her mother, stepfather and father at the hospital—“It was like an entourage,” she quipped. The doctor looked at them and said, “Let’s go to the conference room.”

In a “very frank, straightforward” manner, the doctor told Tara she had a brain tumor, a Diffuse Astrocytoma Grade II, commonly known as a low grade glioma. It was the word ‘diffuse’ that added even more concern because this type of tumor is known for spreading, tentacle-like. Once removed, such a tumor can begin growing again.

“I was pretty numb,” Tara said. “My main concern was in trying not to lose it, not to lose control, thinking I don’t need to break down right now. I need to go back to work.”

As a team lead counselor for a substance abuse clinic, Tara said she sometimes told people, “It’s okay to cry.”

She thought of that as she listened to the doctor talk, realizing, “Here I was telling myself not to cry.”

When he talked about life expectancy, that was the hardest part. “He just laid it out there.”

The doctor also told her about the American Brain Tumor Association so she would be able to learn more from a credible resource on the Web.

Her surgery is scheduled for late April. Meanwhile, her family is trying to help her prepare. Family and friends have set the date for a fundraiser because Tara’s recovery range is 3-12 months. Potential side effects include a worst case scenario of right side paralysis as well as numbness in some parts of her body. She may need speech therapy. Ever the optimist, ever the fighter, Tara’s hoping for the best while gearing up mentally to face the challenges a worst case scenario might deliver.

At 26, Tara certainly didn’t expect to be told she had a medical condition associated with a life expectancy, statistically speaking, of 15 years max. She certainly didn’t expect a minor car crash to be a life-changing event.  She said she’s changed in unexpected ways, even at work.

“I look at life in a different way,” she said, adding that she now looks at the treatment center’s clients with new insight. “I can really be in the moment with the client now,” she said, “I’m more empathetic.”

Tara was one of the first friends my daughter made after we moved to Jacksonville. The two met while attending the University of North Florida. I’ve watched both girls grow into polished professionals who chose lines of work revolving around helping others. I’ve often told them they’re better women than I am—they have the patience to do the Lord’s work for far less pay than most educated people are willing to accept.

Family and friends are planning a Charity Yard Sale and Raffle including a cookout and live music to help Tara, who is single, with expenses above and beyond what her insurance will cover. All involved hope to at least remove some of the financial concerns from her mind as she fights the greatest battle she’s faced in her young life.

Tara is determined to defy those statistics on life expectancy. On a website set up by her family, the Tara A. Newton Fund, Tara wrote, “I’m in the fight of my life and I’m going to win.”

Faith helps. Family and friends of Tara are aware of her deep faith in God. In early February, she had a Bible verse tattooed on her body because it’s been like a touchstone for her for a long time.

The verse is from Philippians, chapter 14: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

The Charity Yard Sale and Raffle for Tara A. Newton will be held Saturday, April, 21 at Calvary United Methodist Church (112 Blanding Blvd, Orange Park, FL 32073) from 7 a.m.-3 p.m.  For more information, or to make a direct donation, please visit the Tara A. Newton Fund website.

(Filed by Kay B. Day/March 23, 2012)

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