Anabelle Thomas and Reilly Traynor talk about the recovery process
Anabelle Thomas and Reilly Traynor were injured in a car accident 6 years ago, they talk about their recovery, sport and the future
Rockland / Westchester Journal News
Odds and statistics don’t mean much to Rye seniors Anabelle Thomas and Reilly Traynor anymore.
They don’t remember much from the moment a panel van broke into their car on the afternoon of July 11, 2016 and caused a serious seven-car pile-up on Interstate 95 near Branford, Connecticut, but they never have forget what happened after that.
Even though years later they feel more and more comfortable telling their story or looking at photos of the accident, they are often reminded of their miraculous survival.
“It’s just interesting to see how people react to it. When you show them the crash, they say, ‘Nobody survived this,'” said Thomas. “And if you knew Reilly and my father now, you would say, ‘How are you?'”
Five years ago they would have asked themselves the same thing. The doctors didn’t think this was possible either.
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Thomas, her father, Peter, and Traynor returned from soccer camp at the University of Rhode Island. When they were about to leave the highway to get food, they were hit by a truck.
“I’m trying to talk and barely had the breath to say the girls’ names and I was just trying to call them to see if I could get an answer from them because I couldn’t even see them,” Peter said Thomas. “I managed to get out and I tried to open one of the back doors and at that point I kind of collapsed. These amazingly good Samaritans show up and I’ll never forget these guys to talk, helped me and I said, ‘ There are two little girls in the back of the car. Please make sure they’re okay. ‘”
They were all taken to the hospital in separate ambulances and were unable to inform each other, adding to the fear.
Anabelle Thomas was found first and taken to the hospital. Traynor was eventually spotted and had to be retrieved from the wreck using the life tools.
The younger Thomas broke almost every bone on her face – nose, jaw, teeth, cheek, eye socket – and suffered a concussion. The elder Thomas broke eight ribs, pierced his lungs, and broke his collarbone.
Traynor was in worse shape. She had three cerebral hemorrhages and was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. She was put on a feeding and breathing tube and placed in a coma.
Her family has been told that they may no longer be able to walk or exercise.
“We were told by a doctor to prepare for the worst,” said her father Sean. “While she was in a coma, she didn’t respond to touch, stimulus, and she didn’t respond to any of them, so the trauma doctor who pulled us aside was very worried about it.”
A few days after the Traynors had that difficult conversation with the doctors, her condition inexplicably improved. She began to react, but there was still a long way to go before she could recover.
She had to learn to walk again and underwent rigorous physical, occupational, and cognitive function therapy. Traynor was out of sports for six months, but when she was free she wasn’t sure she wanted to continue playing at all.
“It was tough. I was very tired all day,” said Traynor. “I couldn’t get through the day without at least two naps. My brain was very tired all the time and I had constant headaches. After physiotherapy and when I played soccer again and could actually play it was so bad. I had just learned to walk again and could hardly play football. It was so humiliating to me and I wanted to quit, but my dad just kept pushing me, forced me to practice and keep playing, and I started to enjoy and love the game more. “
Thomas underwent multiple operations on his face, but wasn’t away from sports for as long as Traynor. However, she has still grappled with the trauma and the psychological effects on and off the field of play. She also noted that it was difficult to get back to ice hockey at first, where she is a goalkeeper.
“For a year I just thought about it every day,” said Thomas. “It was frustrating (getting back into sports). There were definitely days when I thought, ‘Ugh, why am I worse than I was a year ago?’ It’s just a step back. You just have to move on. “
No justice served
The driver of the truck was never charged. He was taken into custody on the day of the accident but released while the police awaited the results of the toxicological tests.
According to the Thomas and Traynor families, the driver’s drug test results were positive and the truck was not insured. The truck company has been closed and the driver has an arrest warrant, but he has fled the country and has not been found.
“I don’t know, I think he obviously deserves a jail sentence, but what should we do about it?” said Traynor. “He’s gone and out of the country.”
“I think what we took away was just that we were grateful to be alive,” added Thomas. “Not so much, ‘Yeah, we get this guy.'”
However, your parents are not over it.
“That’s the only thing I’m really not satisfied with,” said Peter Thomas. “That’s the part that still worries me, that this guy here who was apparently under the influence of something, texted from what I understand, ran a trucking business with no insurance – just like that a lot of things were wrong, but somehow he just I hope he has to wake up every day and live with it in his conscience knowing that he has almost taken a number of lives or has so negatively affected people’s lives. “
Triumphant after an almost tragedy
Although the case remains unsolved, that hasn’t stopped them from finding their own solutions.
“The two girls gave me strength throughout the whole thing and I think we kind of see ourselves as our own sources of strength,” said Peter Thomas. “To just be successful, move on and achieve.”
Traynor and Thomas persisted and now share their story to help others. They used to speak to middle school students in Rye, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put those presentations on hold.
According to their experience, they strive to enter the medical field in old age. Traynor would like to study neuroscience or psychology. Thomas wants to become a doctor.
Away from the classroom, they stayed true to their sport and developed into outstanding athletes.
Thomas is also the starting goalkeeper on the Garnets college boys’ hockey team, where her father is the coach. The Garnets ice hockey team won a Section 1 Division II title in March 2020.
On the pitch, they helped the Garnets win over extra time against Scarsdale in Southern Westchester’s big school championship game last fall.
Traynor has blossomed into an all-state talent and is determined to play Bucknell Division I football. Thomas is still going through the college recruiting process and plans to potentially play both hockey and soccer at the next level.
It’s a remarkable comeback story from where they were five years ago, but they don’t want it to end now.
They hope to end their careers on a happy note and bring another title back to Rye. The path won’t be easy in a highly competitive Class A field, but you are no stranger to braving the odds.
“I think the first two games weren’t our best performances, but once our team has worked together and continues to train and play together as a team, we have all come together to make this great team,” said Traynor. “We have so much potential. We just have to keep working hard and working on little things like finishing and working on overtaking faster.”
Rye has some new faces but has kept a good number of players from his regional championship team and is expected to be on the hunt by the end of the season. The Garnets got off to a slow start, were raged by Albertus Magnus, followed by a goalless draw against Eastchester, but they haven’t lost since then.
The Granets are currently 5-1-1 and will try to gain further momentum in the second half of the season.
“I see so much potential for this team,” said Thomas. “We usually have a season trip and I think that helps us a lot to prepare for the season. We didn’t have that this year. We had to move up and say, ‘What team do we want to be?’ “
Follow Eugene Rapay on Twitter @ erapay5 and on Instagram @byeugenerapay.