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Babbage returns to UK HealthCare chaplaincy with renewed spirit following cycling accident

By Laura Dawahare
Special to KyForward

Exactly five months ago this past week, Laura Babbage had a devastating accident while biking through the French Alps with her 22-year-old son, Brian.

In typical Babbage style, she has returned to her work as a UK HealthCare chaplain more than six months ahead of doctors’ estimates.

Most of the UK HealthCare family knows the story of her accident in France, her airlift back to Lexington, her stay at UK Chandler Hospital, and her inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation at Cardinal Hill Hospital.

Babbage knows they know as well, because she has heard of the many staff who prayed outside the door of her ICU bed and has delighted at the numerous people who’ve stopped her in the halls with a “welcome back!” smile or a hug.

“I’m overwhelmed by how much people rooted for me,” Babbage said. “There was an ocean of prayer — entire churches I’d never heard of were praying for me. And I believe prayer, in all its forms, does matter.”

Laura Babbage worked tirelessly to return to full health after a traumatic brain injury. Here she is "planking" just two months after her accident (UK Now Photos)

Laura Babbage worked tirelessly to return to full health after a traumatic brain injury. Here she is “planking” just two months after her accident (UK Now Photos)

Babbage has written an open letter of thanks to the UK doctors, nurses and staff that cared for her. You can view the letter here.

Since her return about two weeks ago, Babbage goes about her work with the grace and empathy that all who know her recognize: she is a patient and willing listener (“Silence is our friend”); she is trained to develop a relationship of trust without judgment (“We frequently use ‘I wonder’ phrases – wonder is a wonderful thing”) and to add dimension to the skilled care provided by physicians and staff.

While Babbage acknowledges that, at least in the beginning, this ordeal was easiest on her — “I don’t remember a thing, but my family was sorely tested,” she said — she knows that this experience will help her do her job better.

“I am always aware of and sensitive to the desire for a visit from a chaplain as well as for prayer,” she said. “Chaplains are a listening presence for patients and families to help them begin to make sense of their situation. We are available for prayer if requested. Often we simply meet someone in the midst of their pain and suffering, aware of this special privilege.”

“But now I have a deeper appreciation for families and their experience with their ill or injured family member since I’ve returned to work,” she explained. “Chaplains listen far more than we talk, allowing time and space for families to grasp the gravity of the moment.”

“I have a heightened tenderness for family members now that I recognize what my own family experienced during my hospital stay. Like other chaplains I will continue to learn.”

She and Joe Alverson, UK HealthCare’s director of pastoral care, were very careful to make sure she was prepared to meet and address patient and family needs.

“We wondered what would happen if I was needed to minister to a patient or family who’d experienced a trauma similar to mine,” Babbage said. “But we’ve been trained to eject ourselves from any situation if necessary – sometimes you’re not the right person for that patient, and sometimes they don’t want you there at all. I felt I’d still be able to do that.”

Alverson remembers the shock and disbelief he felt when he learned that “one of our own” was in serious trouble.

“My first thought was for her — and my second thought immediately after that was for her family,” he said. “As a chaplain we see the sickest of the sick, and her condition was a huge worry for us.”

The astonishing pace of Babbage’s recovery was “beyond belief,” Alverson said. “The first time I saw her was after she’d completed inpatient rehab at Cardinal Hill in September, and the first words out of her mouth were ‘When can I come back?’ I was excited for her, for me, and for the hospital as well.”

Alverson knows that Babbage will make good use of her journey as she continues to care for others.

“We work in the midst of trauma and chaos every day, but to actually live that makes it more real,” he said. “I really look forward to seeing how her experience changes the trajectory of her work, but regardless of the exact path, I know it will be a good one. We’re just thrilled to have her back.”

Laura Dawahare writes for UK Now

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