MANCHESTER – Hannah Donner knows that your life can change in an instant.
After experiencing a nearly fatal trauma, the 21-year-old Manchester resident has since found her calling in promoting positivity in patients.
Donner has made it her mission to turn the ceiling of the K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital at Jersey Shore University Medical Center into a work of art with decorated ceiling tiles.
On September 23, 2016, Donner fell asleep at the wheel while driving, crossing over Route 530 in Whiting and colliding with a tree.
“My airbags did not deploy and because of this, I broke nearly all of the bones in my face,” she said. “Aside from this, I had a brain bleed in my tentorium, damage to my lungs, I lost teeth, bit all the way through my bottom lip, and I broke my talus and fibula bones in my right leg.”
Donner went into cardiac arrest and was airlifted to the hospital from Robert J. Miller Airpark, near the scene of the accident.
For a while after this, things were a bit of a blur for Donner.
“I actually cannot pinpoint exactly my first memory after the accident. That is a very foggy time for me,” she explained.
Once she recovered enough to leave the hospital, Donner spent her days the same way: she woke up, crawled downstairs, relaxed on the couch, and went to the doctor’s or physical therapy.
As things became a little less nebulous, she realized, “I was pretty sad.”
“It was my senior year of high school and I was stuck on my couch, missing senior trips, couldn’t drive, and of course I couldn’t play volleyball,” something that hurt especially, Donner told Jersey Shore Online.
She spent a lot of time wondering what any person might wonder after having experienced a traumatic incident of that magnitude: “Why did this happen to me?”
It took nearly two years for Donner to come to terms with her reality.
“I had to understand that there was no greater meaning to why this happened. It was just literally an accident,” she said.
It was then that Donner chose the more resilient of the paths in front of her. A long recovery process also lead to a lot of valuable lessons learned.
“I now know that there is nearly nothing that I cannot overcome. I learned that I really enjoy helping others and organizing fundraising opportunities,” said Donner. “I have always liked helping people, but now I have a bit more purpose on what kind of person to help.”
Three years after her accident, now a junior at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), Donner discovered that the way to acceptance was through gratitude. During a meeting on the TCNJ campus, she noticed a picture of an elementary school art room that had painted ceiling tiles. This became her inspiration.
“In that moment I know that I just absolutely had to do that,” said Donner.
Donner’s plan was to paint ceiling tiles for the K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, giving back to the hospital that saved her life while helping others who might also find themselves waking up in a hospital bed.
It all began with a call to Child Life Specialist Sara Patterson at K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital. Donner and Patterson set up meeting dates and eventually came up with a plan.
The hospital’s initial response to Donner’s proposal was to provide her 12 ceiling tiles to start, much to her disappointment.
“I just don’t think they realized how intense I am…After I explained my vision to them, they did not hesitate and they ordered about 500 ceiling tiles that my dad and I picked up,” said Donner, noting that another 550 were on the way.
So far, Donner has managed to paint 35 tiles herself and 500 tiles have been placed in the facility already. The tiles depict images radiating positivity, such as a sun, rainbow, flowers, and trees. One painted by Donner bears a quote that sums up her recovery: “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”
While there was not necessarily any significance in the ceiling tiles initially, Donner has found it throughout her own academic journey.
She is currently finishing up her undergraduate degree in sociology and then plans on pursuing her Master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling, “this coincides with ceiling tiles perfectly,” she added.
“I want to promote positive mental health for patients of all aspects and I believe that these tiles have the power to do that.”
She will also continue on to pursue her doctorate, something she is very excited about.
Anyone that wants to participate in Donner’s project may do so by contacting her at firstname.lastname@example.org for information. There is a $10 fee to participate, which is donated to the hospital.