Student Defies the Odds, Survives 5-Month Coma

El Vaquero Staff Writer

Imagine the overwhelming emotions one would feel if he awoke from a coma realizing he had missed out on five months of his life. How would he go about living knowing that he was unconscious and hooked to numerous tubes on his 13th birthday?

Ara Petrossian, a student on campus, cannot come up with the words to describe the many emotions he felt when he awoke in February 1991 from a coma which almost ended his life.

“God is the only reason I am alive right now,” said Petrossian.

In the fall of 1990, while returning with his family from a visit with his sister at UC Davis, a truck crashed into their car. The truck driver fled, leaving Petrossian and his family at the scene, trapped in the remains of their car.

The driver struck with extreme force, causing the car to make seven or eight turns on the empty freeway. Petrossian was immediately left unconscious due to the impact of the crash. The paramedics arrived at the scene leaving the identity of the caller unknown.

Escaping the disastrous scene, Petrossian’s parents Edward and Angel were rushed to Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield by ambulance. Shattered glass and blood covered the deserted freeway as Petrossian was airlifted from the incident, which now remains a tragic memory.

Luckily, Petrossian’s father survived with a broken neck and his mother pulled through with only a twisted ankle. However, Petrossian’s injuries appeared to be far more serious.

Many tests were conducted, along with a CAT scan to finally diagnose Petrossian with a broken right femur, a broken left ankle, four fractures and a crack in his skull. Unfortunately, Petrossian did not walk out of the hospital with these injuries, but remained in a coma for the next five months.

Petrossian’s 13th birthday was three days after the accident. Recalling his anticipation of his 13th birthday, Petrossian said, “Thirteen is an important age. I had plans, a stack of paper of what was going to happen at my birthday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.; every single detail I had planned.” He lay there unconscious as he was transferred to the Northridge Hospital, with a 5 percent chance of surviving.

After a grueling five months in the hospital, with Petrossian’s family by his side, he awoke from the coma with no recollection of the accident. The doctors informed his parents that there was a large chance that he would never be able to walk or play sports again, and that he would have complete loss of his short-term memory. According to his doctors, there was a possibility that he would be bed-ridden forever.

“I used to play all kinds of sports,” said Petrossian. “Baseball, basketball, ice hockey, field hockey, soccer, I could go on forever.”
Petrossian recalls life before the accident as “generally too easy.” He was not only involved in numerous sports, but he also maintained good grades and lived a happy life. Due to unfortunate circumstances, Petrossian realized he now had to begin a new chapter in his life, accepting the struggle in which he would have to face in the months to come.

Petrossian officially left the hospital nine months after the accident, but the recovery did not end there. After surviving through a lengthy coma, Petrossian now had to regain his life back, both physically and mentally. This required several hours of physical therapy at Casa Colina in Pasadena.

His physical therapist made a list of goals for which they would follow in terms of where Petrossian wanted to be with his physical abilities after therapy. Finally, the memories of his previously active life began to surface. “I enjoyed therapy because I remembered my physical life before the accident,” said Petrossian.

After two years of physical therapy, Petrossian began to see improvement in his condition. A change in his physical state encouraged Petrossian to work even harder, and with that, he soon noticed a significant change in his mental condition as well. Continuing through junior high and graduating through high school, he was insured to live a healthy and normal life.

“I studied everyday, in high school,” said Petrossian. “I studied everyday, whether I had a test, a quiz, or a chapter of reading. I’d start a week in advance.”

Before the accident, Petrossian was enrolled in above average courses, studying at the high school level his first year of junior high. He said he wanted to return to that level, and this meant he needed to “work at least five times as hard.” Although Petrossian knew he could continue to live an average life and work as hard as others, he felt he needed to do more in order to progress.

Petrossian continued to keep a positive state of mind, and did his best. Working long hours, and maintaining an optimistic attitude brought Petrossian to GCC. Realizing he overcame a tough obstacle and gained a life in which the doctors said was impossible, motivates Petrossian to continue to succeed.

Now 26, Petrossian is healthy and doing well. He has regained a large portion of his short-term memory, plays tournament tennis, and is also enrolled in child development courses at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena. He is majoring in child development because he feels he has a deep understanding for children.

Although the scars are present to remind him of his experience, he feels a large portion of who he is today is an outcome of the accident.

“I lived through the accident,” said Petrossian. “God gave me life 26 years ago, and gave me a new life five months after the accident. I had to work harder, but I enjoyed it because it gave me a sense of respect for myself.”