Mother of crash victim is raising her baby again, 31 years later

Photography by Greg Lovett

Nominated by Coalition for Independent Living Options

Caterina “Cathy” DiGiovanni raised three beautiful children and they were still close. She was a good Italian grandmother, spoiling everyone. She had good friends. She’d even saved a little money for retirement. Life was good.

But it didn’t stick. Instead, she’s raising her daughter, Angel, 31, for a second time. Angel suffered a traumatic brain injury in a two-car collision that killed another driver just a few weeks into 2017. She was a passenger in one of the cars. The accident left her unable to care for herself. It’s unlikely she’ll ever be able to live on her own again.

Doctors wanted to put Angel in a bed in a nursing home. When she left the hospital, she was nonverbal and needed a wheelchair, a feeding tube and a menu of meds. Her life had been rewound to infancy, but Cathy said, “We’re Italians, and we take care of our own.”

A photograph of Adrienne DiGiovanni and her mother Angel before Angel suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car crash.
A photograph of Adrienne DiGiovanni and her mother Angel before Angel suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car crash.

Cathy got the training she needed to care for Angel, and soon there was a hospital bed in the middle of her Loxahatchee living room. With the help of friends and family, Cathy adjusted to the demands of being a full-time caregiver, and Angel has done well. She is talking and laughing, even walking around.

But Angel’s care is just one facet of Cathy’s challenges. Money, of course, is an issue. Her retirement nest egg has disappeared. The driver’s inadequate insurance covered very little of Angel’s $700,000 hospital bill. The therapy Angel needs must be paid for out-of-pocket, and some providers have gone unpaid. Navigating the bureaucracy to get services is complicated and time-consuming, but Cathy keeps trying.

She worries about her granddaughter, Angel’s daughter, Adrianne, who has had to grow up fast. Adrianne, now 14, desperately misses her mom as a vibrant, beautiful, funny, loving woman.

There are small victories. Cathy has been able to go back to work full-time, running the computer lab at the middle school her granddaughter attends. She loves her work. But most of the money she earns goes to pay for the nurse who comes in to care for Angel.

“Someone is always here,” says Cathy, who also relies on good friends for help. “Angel is never alone.”

Angel goes to speech and occupational therapy, which seem to be working though her progress is slow. The feeding tube is gone and Angel eats homemade bean soup or stew, made from scratch on the weekends.

She can walk unassisted, thanks to “Dr. Matt,” a chiropractor who has treated Angel without demanding cash up-front.

Cathy thinks that her daughter’s strong will and stubborn nature are what keeps her going, and her Catholic faith has helped get her through.

“I just feel like Angel has unfinished business,” says Cathy. “That’s why God didn’t take her.”

CATHY’S WISH

Cathy DiGiovanni’s daughter, Angel, 31, sustained a traumatic brain injury in a car accident in 2017. After weeks in a coma, Cathy brought Angel home where Cathy has provided 24/7 care, with help, ever since. Angel came home like an infant, and now she’s like a toddler. No one can predict how much progress she’ll be able to make with therapy. Cathy needs money to pay for therapy. They’ve already been turned away. Angel is still partially paralyzed on one side, one eye is damaged, her broken teeth have never been fixed. The house wasn’t designed for a disabled person and some work (grab bars and ramps and railings) is needed to make the home safe. The bathroom tub was torn out to put in the shower they needed, and the room needs some repairs. They also need an accessible toilet so they can teach Angel to use it.

Nominated by: Coalition for the Independent Living Options, 561-966-4288

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