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Dad at her side as broken brain heals

Published February 14, 2011 12:40 pm

After being severely injured in a car accident, Ashley McAdam says best consequence is more time with father.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

South Jordan • Marty Cordova looks at his daughter and asks her what she had for dinner last night.

He knows because he was with Ashley McAdam, but he wants to make sure she can remember.

The 15-year-old responds correctly, not only telling him she had chicken strips at a Chik-fil-A, but also detailing where everyone was sitting in the dining booth.

"A few weeks ago, she couldn't tell you at lunch what she had for breakfast," Cordova says. "She's smart, and anticipated that you wanted to hear that she remembered, but she couldn't give details. This is a big improvement."

He continues to push her to remember the details of her day in a seamless stream of words that never sounds rushed, just insistent. It's the tone of a father who wants to impart all of the skills his daughter needs to find her way back after he nearly lost her forever.

Game changer • Ashley inherited more than her father's eyes, nose and lips. She also got his athletic ability. She was the only girl to play in an all-boys municipal baseball league, making proud her father, an ex-Salt Lake Buzz baseball player and 1995 winner of the American League Rookie of the Year award. She played first base, but also performed at every position but pitcher, catcher and third base.

"I just never liked third base," she said.

She also loved playing guard on her basketball team, with an affinity for scoring.

But she may never find herself on a court or field again.

On Dec. 16, she slid into the front seat of her neighbor's car and they drove to Herriman High School. As the driver turned left near the school, the car cut in front of an oncoming pickup, which slammed into the car's passenger side.

Ashley took the brunt of the impact, which shattered her left femur and right elbow, and cleaved her lower jaw bone in two. She also hit her head, leaving her in a coma for two weeks. Doctors at Intermountain Medical Center did their best to work on her body as she lay unresponsive, but a broken brain doesn't send the right messages to heal shattered bones. Ashley's sent too much calcium to her leg, creating a baseball-sized bone growth on her femur that makes it painful to walk and causes her to limp. She may find herself on the operating table within a year if the bone doesn't fix itself.

When she was still comatose, she underwent a chest X-ray, during which she fell out of the bed. She landed on her head and sliced open her left brow, requiring 20 stitches and leaving a long, pink scar. The hospital is investigating the situation.

When the traffic accident occurred, Cordova flew to Utah from his home in Las Vegas to be with his daughter. He was staying at the hospital with her and then moved to a Residence Inn in Sandy when Ashley went home Wednesday to her mother, Tamara McAdam-Burleigh, focusing all of his efforts on helping his daughter recover.

Since retiring from baseball, he runs a company called Bent Pixels, which develops iPhone apps for clients such as Shaquille O'Neal. Running his own company with two of his close friends has allowed him to spend the time in Utah. He plans to be in the state for another month, and it's apparent his attention is squarely focused on helping his daughter recover physically, mentally and emotionally.

A new regimen • For Ashley, time with Dad had always been centered around having fun. She loved to attend Ultimate Fighting Championship matches with him, meeting the likes of Usher and Mandy Moore. They would watch movies together and use their split summers and various weekends and holidays to enjoy each other's company.

"We were all about having as much fun as possible," Cordova said. "I never had to do the daily routine stuff."

Now he's buying notebooks to fill with every tiny detail about his days with Ashley, from what time they wake up to specific food they eat to their physical activity and what brain teasers they play.

"She just has so much to do now," he said. "Do I push her hard? Absolutely. But I've got to get her the cues that make her remember."

At lunch Sunday, Cordova said he wants to create a map for Ashley and her mother to follow when he's no longer a daily presence. But he knows when he leaves the state, it will be up to Ashley to focus herself on the challenging work ahead of her.

Ashley's naturally sarcastic sense of humor and her love of Will Farrell movies help to explain the easy smile she has as her dad recounts the nicknames he's had for her over the years: fishhead, chump, meat — all culled from a life shaped by professional sports. But the only nickname he's used for her during her recovery is "Boss."

"I guess I was pretty bossy in the hospital," Ashley says.

Her dad quickly counters, saying the name came about as a way to infuse some humor into the days at the hospital, which vacillated between the tiresome and the harrowing.

"She started out by telling me she'd pay me $6 a week, then it was $4, then it was $2," he said. "She promised me that pay, one bathroom break and a bologna sandwich a day."

Through the wringer • When Ashley came out of her coma, she started intense physical therapy to learn to walk again and to strengthen muscles that had atrophied as she lay motionless for days.

But even through the agony of simply stretching out abdominal muscles that had contracted as she hunched forward due to a feeding tube, she didn't complain or whine.

But she did have frustrating experiences.

"Look at what [the accident] did to me. You'd be mad about it, too," she said.

But this is also the girl that didn't miss a step when a line drive hit her squarely in the shin in freezing conditions.

"Every parent paints their children as these amazing kids, but Ashley really hasn't whined or complained at all through this. She hasn't missed a single appointment, and she works hard. She's always been an overachiever, and that's true in this, too," Cordova said.

Ashley has a pretty matter-of-fact approach to the situation.

"No pain, no gain," she said. She realizes she has the choice of giving in to her brain that tells her to sleep the day away or to push herself so she can fill in the missing pieces from family vacations and what it felt like to hear the swish of a net on a pivotal basket.

When a physical therapist asked her to walk 800 steps, she would do 950. The only thing that sent chills down her spine was the twice-daily shots of blood thinner that stung intensely.

"She would make me frisk everyone coming in to the room, making sure they didn't have needles," Cordova said jokingly.

Ashley was happy to return home Wednesday, eating better food and sleeping on what she says is a much more comfortable bed. She won't return to school for a while, but the straight-A student has a homeschooling plan in place.

Facing her mortality as a teenager has also given her a new sense of gratitude.

"I took my life for granted, and I appreciate it now," she said.

But she says the best thing that has come from her ordeal has been spending more time with her father.

"It's brought us both closer, and I'm glad," she said.

Cordova, who focuses the spotlight on his daughter's achievements, brushes aside any praise for his dedication.

"Doing what I've done is what any responsible parent would do," he said. "Right, boss?"

smcfarland@sltrib.com —

Supporting Ashley McAdam

O Throughout Ashley's recovery, Marty Cordova has been posting Facebook updates, letting her 4,000 followers know how his daughter is doing. But with the end of her hospital stay comes a slowdown in updates. He plans to check in about once a month, but will let Ashley decide if she wants to post more often.

> facebook.com/supportingashleymcadam






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