West Palm Beach, Fla. - Three years ago Marina Hofman and her husband Larry Willard were driving home from a baby shower on an ordinary Sunday afternoon in Toronto, Canada when their lives were abruptly and unexpectedly changed forever. Another vehicle hit the Canadian couple head on, killing the other driver and critically injuring Hofman and her husband.
“His car drove our car into us,” Hofman stated.
The accident crushed Willard on the left side, and Hofman suffered a brain injury and four lacerations to her bowels. Although her injuries were extensive and still affect her today, the doctor later told the couple some quick thinking by the husband moments before the accident prevented Hofman from receiving even greater injuries.
Willard threw his body over his wife for protection. According to their physician, if the airbags had hit Hofman instead of her husband, then her brain injury would be greater – perhaps the airbags may have killed her.
Thankfully, the car in front of the accident was a fireman with EMS training and the car behind the accident carried two EMS ambulance workers. These three individuals were able to ensure Hofman survived before her arrival at the hospital.
According to Hofman, her first memory after the accident is feeling totally alone in the hospital.
“I was on suicide watch,” Hofman said. “After a trauma like that people usually can’t take it, so they just kill themselves to stop the pain.”
As for Hofman’s husband, Willard broke several bones, leading to being hospitalized for two months. The couple’s recoveries were slow but daily.
“I had so many different problems that all recovered in different ways. I still take [physical therapy] and I still have a lot of issues but I’ve come a long way. I don’t really mind my issues too much in that it keeps me
reliant on the Lord day by day,” Hofman said.
One of Hofman’s greatest and most challenging injury was to her brain, leaving holes in her memory and making it difficult to form two-syllable words.
“I couldn’t say three words without stuttering. I still forget words sometimes,” she said.
Even to this day, Hofman has not regained the majority of her memory prior to the accident.
“I don’t remember my wedding day. Sometimes I’ll look at photos and I’ll watch the video, but I don’t remember any of it,” she said.
“When people ask me how long I’ve been married, I always have to think,” Hofman said.
The couple married six years ago, but Hofman only remembers the three since the accident, which to her feels like a lifetime. She would ask the same questions all day at the beginning of her recovery. Instead of simply writing the answer down for as reference, Willard continued answering questions as if his wife had not asked them before. It’s that kind of love and support that helped Hofman throughout the entire recovery process.
“My personality completely changed after the accident,” Hofman said. “I became a recluse and very depressed. In a way, I really wasn’t the person he had married, but he was still so caring and patient.”
It often feels to the couple like they’ve been through more than others who have been married for 50 years.
But thankfully, it’s also been a bonding experience.
The couple eventually moved from Toronto to Florida, with Hofman beginning her job at Palm Beach Atlantic Univeristy in 2015. That was the plan all along prior to the accident a year and half earlier, but they waited until the couple was well enough to make the move.
“I fully believed that PBA was an opportunity from God and would be instrumental in my recovery,” Hofman said.
The professor’s experiences with anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder have helped her relate to and care for her students in ways she would have been unable to before the crash. It helps her be there for them - personally and academically.
“Because I was a high achiever I thought everyone should be a high achiever and if they weren’t then maybe they were just lazy. I realize now that a lot of students just need someone to walk alongside them.”