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Relearning to Walk – and Then Run: Erica Baggett's Story

After sustaining a brain injury in 2018 and being in a coma for six weeks, Erica Baggett is preparing to run her first marathon in hopes of inspiring others to pursue their goals.

Every morning, Erica Baggett gets up early and runs – sometimes as much as nine miles a day. That’s remarkable in its own right, but even more so considering a run – or even a walk – seemed impossible three years ago after a car accident in which Erica sustained multiple broken bones, a collapsed lung and a traumatic brain injury (TBI).  

On October 19, 2018, Erica, her husband Josh, and their 18-month-old son were driving from their home in Nashville, Tennessee, to their alma mater, the University of Mississippi, for a football game. They had just crossed into Mississippi when their car was hit by a semi-truck, causing it to spin several times. Erica was ejected from the car while Josh and the baby were uninjured. She was airlifted to Regional One Medical Center in Memphis, where it wasn’t certain if she would survive.

After being in a coma for six weeks, Erica beat the odds and emerged. Still, Josh had been told to prepare for the worst: His wife may never be able to take care of herself or her son or be left alone. She was transferred to Shepherd Center’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program where she had to relearn how to do everything, including walking, talking, swallowing and dressing herself. Once again, she made tremendous progress.

“We were told that Shepherd Center was the best, and it lived up to its reputation,” Josh says. “I credit them as much as I credit Erica. She put in the hard work, but they helped guide her every step of the way.”

Erica returned home in January 2019. She eventually returned to work as an occupational accident claims adjuster, but the effects of her accident were still with her. She lost her sense of taste and smell, had physical scars all over her body, and experienced anxiety and depression. She also had trouble sleeping. Josh suggested she start taking morning walks to clear her head. She took his advice.

“Walking turned into running,” says Erica, who was not a runner before the accident. “And I started to see the positive effects it was having on me. It helped with my anxiety and depression more than the medicine did. When I run, I can work things out, and it clears my head. It’s just me and the pavement. It’s the one thing that remains constant, and it helps me so much in my new world.”

Erica, who says she became more goal-oriented after her accident, soon set her sights on running a half marathon. On April 22, 2021, she ran the Kentucky Derby Festival Half Marathon in Louisville, crossing the finish line triumphantly after running 13.1 miles.

“When I finished, I just thought to myself, ‘I did it!.’ It was such an accomplishment,” she says.

Josh was waiting for her at the finish line and had been cheering her on the entire time.

“Even though he didn’t run with me, we accomplished this together,” Erica says.

In October 2021, she ran a 15K (9.3 miles), finishing second place in the female category. Her next goal: 26.2 miles. Erica plans to run the 2022 St. Jude Rock 'n' Roll Running Series Nashville - Marathon on April 23, 2022.  

Josh says that when he was at Shepherd Center with Erica, he met other families whose stories gave both of them hope. Erica now wants to be that inspiration to others.

“I want my story to help give people that same hope and encouragement, no matter what their personal goals or passions are,” she says. “I also want to be a role model for my son. If he ever experiences something hard, I want to be his source of inspiration. I would like him to think, ‘If my mom could get through that, I can too.’”

By Sara Baxter

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.