CORALVILLE — When Maggie McQuillen came home June 6, she walked into an atmosphere without expectations.
“It’s day to day here,” said her father, Matt McQuillen. “If we talk about expectations, there’s an opportunity for failure, and that’s not acceptable.”
Every step forward is a victory. Every day is a bonus.
“There is no victim mentality in our house,” Matt said.
Saturday marks 100 days since Maggie — a recent graduate of Anamosa High School, where she was a four-sport athlete — was involved in a near-fatal accident. She was southbound on Highway 151, en route to a workout at Downing Field in Anamosa. It is believed that a semi pulled into the path of McQuillen, who was driving her Nissan Altima.
“I don’t remember anything about it,” the 18-year-old McQuillen said during an interview Tuesday, after finishing a two-hour rehabilitation session at On With Life, an outpatient neurological clinic which she attends three times per week for occupational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy.
“I wish I did.”
McQuillen’s first post-accident recollection comes from a May conversation with her mother, Beth McQuillen, at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago.
The conversation, Maggie said, went like this:
Maggie: “Where are we? What time is it? What day?”
Beth: “We’re in Chicago. You were in an accident, about 2 1/2 months ago.”
Maggie: “Did I cause the accident? Is it my fault?”
Beth: “No. It wasn’t your fault.”
McQuillen nearly died at the scene, suffering massive trauma to her skull, brain, face and jaw. Her left ear was severed. She was rushed to University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics.
A week later, she underwent a 16-hour brain surgery.
“The first eight or nine days, it was touch and go,” Matt said. “We didn’t know if she was going to make it.”
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McQuillen had some key factors on her side, though. Her youth. Her level of activity. Her determination.
“Definitely, her prior level of activity has made a big difference,” said Paula Duve, her primary physical therapist at On With Life. “And we want to get back to that level.
“Maggie is doing some great things when she comes here. She’s really fun to work with. She’s open to trying anything. She wants to make it harder.
“It’s a fun challenge for both of us.”
During Tuesday’s occupational-therapy session, McQuillen baked and served cookies (delicious, by the way). During a 15-minute physical-therapy window in which The Gazette was allowed indoors, Duve worked McQuillen through an exercise in which she stood on one foot and maneuvered a stand with wheels with her other leg. Then it was an agility ladder workout, sort of a hopscotch routine.
McQuillen aced both of them.
“I feel normal,” she said. “I can’t jump as high as I could, but other than that, I feel normal.”
McQuillen, arguably, was the top female athlete in the Anamosa High School Class of 2020. She was a River Valley Conference all-division selection in volleyball and basketball. In softball, she was the starting third baseman last season as the Raiders went 31-5 and reached the Class 3A regional finals.
In track and field, she was a member of Anamosa’s 3A state runner-up distance medley relay last year, and ran on a fifth-place 3,200-meter relay.
McQuillen is a well-known high school athlete. And as she began recovery, first at UIHC (March 19-April 18), then at Shirley Ryan (April 18-June 6), support came from Anamosa and beyond.
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Immediately, ribbons and pictures showed up at Downing Field. A campaign, called Moving 4 Maggie, began with T-shirts (“Beast Mode” was a common theme). B&W Racing Services conducted an online virtual race, in which 386 competitors from Eastern Iowa, out of state and overseas filed times, in 1 mile, 5K and 10K.
When league rival Northeast came to Anamosa for a softball game Thursday, the visiting team wore shirts in McQuillen’s honor.
Back home now, McQuillen attends softball games with her parents. She catches up with her friends. She loves cards, especially euchre. She has resumed her Sunday ritual of Dungeons and Dragons. She was in the family’s swimming pool this week.
She sleeps well at night, “but she wants to stay up late,” Beth said.
McQuillen was asked if she considers her survival, and her healing, a miracle.
Her eyes widened.
“Kind of,” she said. “I think I’m getting better because of my sports, my healthy eating ... I’ve always cooked pretty healthy, for myself and my parents.
“I still want to go to college, and I still want to be (an emergency-room) doctor.”
Her father was right. There’s no victim mentality in this family.
A neuropsych test is scheduled July 13. That, Beth said, will “identify any deficiencies in the brain, and where they are.
“We’re still going to have hurdles, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.”
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