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Accident Survivors Determined To Help Others

Jonci Berneche has vague memories of the horrific automobile accident that almost took her life in 1999, while Scott Adams can only rely on what others have told him concerning his near-fatal crash in 2007.

Both will tell you that it took huge doses of grit, determination and faith to get to where they are now.

Berneche is a school counselor and has her professional counseling license, while Adams has spent the past two seasons as a volunteer coach for the Halifax County Middle School baseball team.

The former standout baseball pitcher for the Comets also tutors first-graders at South Boston Elementary School and volunteers his time at the YMCA, while studying to become a teacher.

Both admit they are lucky to be alive, and both admit they were spared for a reason.

“I don’t really recall anything,” said Berneche of her accident, which occurred March 9, 1999 on Terry’s Bridge Road.

“I was going to visit a friend who recently had a baby and just remember I didn’t have to go to work that day,” added Berneche, then a teacher at C.H. Friend Elementary School.

“There’s a basic feeling I had of a car going back and forth out of my control.  I don’t know if I made that up to accommodate for loss of memory, but as far as I know what happened, and any pain associated with the accident I don’t recall.”

“I do know I was thrown out of the vehicle 25 feet in the air and that I skidded on the ground 25 feet,” explained Berneche.

“I know I had many broken bones, had broken my pelvis in five places, and I lost 32 units of blood.  I broke my neck (C-7 vertebrae), and I basically broke everything on my body that would break.

“My ear was nearly severed, and I broke a wrist and several ribs.”

Berneche was placed in a medication-induced coma for two weeks due to the intense pain she would otherwise have felt.

“It’s odd because I remember people speaking to me while I was in a coma, and I always encourage people to speak to their loved ones in similar situations.

“I remember hearing two of the nurses talking and remember hearing people speak very encouragingly, and that’s who I clung to, my aunt talking about how much I liked taking walks in the woods.

“That would excite and help me.”

Berneche remembers the recovery process as being very long and arduous.

“I had to wear a halo on my neck for over three months, and that was the most difficult part because I couldn’t turn my head at all,” recalled Berneche.

“I would scratch a date out (on a calendar) and that let me know how many days I had left.

“’This too shall pass’ was my motto, my mantra, and I had to hold onto that because it wasn’t going to last forever, and I eventually would get through it.  There were many, many sleepless nights, and there was one spot on the back of my head that actually touched the pillow, and the hair actually rubbed off my head at that one spot.

“I was in Duke for three months.”

The accident itself and its aftermath have profoundly altered the way Berneche looks at herself and the world around her.

“You feel you have a divine purpose perhaps, and you take it very seriously. Obviously, I survived for some purpose,” she noted.

“It makes you appreciate every day, and especially once I came out and took the halo off and was able to turn my neck, that was the most appreciative I’ve ever been.

“It teaches you to appreciate what you have, and it teaches that you can do anything if you need to survive.
“Since then whenever I’ve had to deal with difficult situations, and I’ve told myself you’ve made it through the accident and can make it through anything else that comes along.

“It makes you realize how strong you truly are,” added Berneche, who currently counsels part time and plans eventually to be a trauma counselor.

“I eventually want to got back to where I was, full-circle, and work with people who’ve been in traumatic situations and offer them encouragement and hope,” Berneche said.

“I think at the moment, it’s my purpose in life, and maybe that’s why I experienced this so I could help others who are going through difficult times.”

One physician’s assistant told Berneche she would never be normal again, she said.

“Others told me I had brain damage and that I would never be able to work the job I was in, that I would be living an altered existence and that my life would never be normal again.

“She gave me very little hope to walk normally and do the things I normally do, and I was also told I may not be able to have children.

“That was the lowest point for me.  I think my determination pushed me through that, and I thought to myself ‘you don’t know me, and you don’t know who I am.’”

Berneche said she had to relearn to walk to some degree and learn again to do some other things but added her memory and academic ability wasn’t really altered.

“I came back and actually started back the next school year in August, I started on my masters and completed that, and I then did some post-masters work to get my degree in counseling.

“That was never difficult for me, but compensating for the loss of muscle strength in my leg was more difficult. 

My husband and I were avid hikers, and we would also hike.

“I took a few spills, but I got to the point we would hike every weekend.”

Berneche has some advice for people struggling with physical ailments or other issues similar to what she endured.

“I understand people give you advice and tell you things because they want to protect you, but never believe what other people tell you about what your own capabilities are,” she explained.

“You have to prove it to yourself and never give up…always believe in yourself and keep pushing because you will find that inner strength that’s inside you.

“You’ll push past the pain, frustration, the hardships, and use your determination to prove to yourself and others around you that you will be successful.

“Find the courage and strength to lead a good and successful life.”

Scott Adams Is A Survivor

Like Berneche, Scott Adams survived an almost fatal automobile accident, Adams’ accident occurring Dec. 27, 2007.

“I recalled it was two days after Christmas, and I remember one thing about Christmas Day and nothing about Christmas Eve,” said Adams, who said he was in a coma for 15 days at Duke.

“Doctors told me I had a brain injury.  I broke my shoulder blade, my collarbone, and had a bunch of fractured vertebrae,” recalled Adams.

“I was in a coma for 15 days.  It was a miracle I made it through the wreck, and I heard I had a one in 10 chance of coming out of the coma.

“It was a one in a million chance of me surviving the wreck,” added Adams, who can’t remember his month at Duke.

“I started getting my memory back while at MCV, and as far as I knew my job was sitting in bed and doing anything they wanted me to do.

“I had no memory of my past, and I knew my name because they told me what my name was.”

Adams spent time at Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center, MCV and Cox Rehab in South Boston, and Adams knows how far he has come in such a short time.

“They told my mom while I was at Duke that I was going to have to be put into a home where someone would care for me every day,” Adams recalled.

“Mom wouldn’t take that for an answer, and somehow I pulled through.  I’ve regained a lot of my memory, but names just ‘kill’ me now.  I help coach the middle school baseball team, and I just try to match faces and names, faces and names… it’s very hard for me now.”

Adams was a standout high school pitcher and was one of the main cogs in a Comets varsity baseball team that made an appearance in the Virginia Group AAA baseball tournament semifinal game in 2001.

He played baseball at Virginia Tech, DCC and St. Andrews Presbyterian College before returning to South Boston.

He found a job at ABB after baseball ended and was employed there when the accident happened.

This coming season will mark the third year Adams has been a volunteer baseball coach at Halifax County Middle School, and he also has tutored first-graders at South Boston Elementary School and youth at the Halifax County-South Boston YMCA.

Adams remarked the discipline and positive attitude he used to become a success in baseball has helped him in his recovery.

“You just have to push yourself, and like baseball it was something I wanted to do,” he said in reference to his return to baseball.

“My resource manager told me the YMCA would love for someone to come and volunteer, so I volunteer with the 5K, help with the softball field, whatever.

“I wanted to be the best at what I could do…nobody thought I’d make it this far. The doctors, everybody, but family members said that if I wanted to do it I could.”

Much like Berneche, Adams feels a calling to help others.

“There’s a reason I lived, and it could have gone the other way,” Adams pointed out.

“God put me here to do something, so I’m doing all I can to help.  I’m on disability, but if you need help call me, and I’ll try and help you.”

Adam’s ultimate goal is to become an elementary school teacher, and he is taking classes toward that end.

“The way me and Jonci pulled through, you have to have faith, and you have to push through, and you want to make it happen,” Adams pointed out.

“I help because I feel God left me here on earth to help someone, so I’ll spend the rest of my life helping whoever I can.

“I feel privileged, and I feel it’s my duty now to help people, I’ll look down on myself if I don’t, and if I don’t help people, I’ll feel bad about myself.”

Adams is also considering a return to the diamond, something unthinkable just three years ago.

“I’ll try to play in the [adult baseball league].  I don’t know how well I’ll do, but I’ll try.

“The boys on the middle school team said I was pretty ‘nasty’ and that they couldn’t hit me.  They said my stuff was still pretty good, and hopefully it is.

“I think I can do it.”