A week before Christmas Hollie Snell's mum and dad got the phone call all parents dread. Their 16-year-old daughter had been in a car crash.
She had been travelling home to Te Puke with her partner Keani Walters and friends when their car collided with another at Okere Falls, just out of Rotorua.
A woman in the passenger seat of an oncoming car had died and Hollie was in a critical condition. Doctors believed she was unlikely to survive and her family prepared to donate her organs.
But on the six-month anniversary of that fateful day, the now 17-year-old is walking, talking and learning to live life again.
In her own words, mother-of-three Dale Snell shares her journey with "the new Hollie" ahead of a long recovery.
My husband David and I had been to a wedding the night before and were in bed when we got the call. We flew out of bed and put our clothes on top of our pyjamas. We left the house with nothing but our phones. We didn't brush our teeth or our hair or anything.
We went to Paeangaroa where they had shut the road off and were waiting to hear who had died, who had shut the road off, where the kids were. Police actually sent us home and said someone would be in touch to tell us where Hollie was being taken. By that stage we knew she was critical.
By the time we got home, a friend who works for St John told us she was being airlifted to Waikato Hospital. The other kids were in Rotorua Hospital. We knew we wouldn't get to Hamilton quickly so we organised for one of my best friends Tracey and her husband Dylan, who live in Cambridge, to be there. One of my biggest fears was that nobody would be there to meet Hollie when the helicopter arrived. I wanted somebody to be there to love her. At that stage we thought she was going to die.
When we arrived, thankfully we were confronted by Dylan and Tracey who took us straight through to Hollie. Keani's sister was there too. It was lovely to have those super special people there waiting for me and to support us through that, I wouldn't have done it without them.
Hollie was hooked up to breathing apparatus and she still had blood all over her face. It's a parent's worst nightmare. They told us she had a critical brain injury and that her situation looked bad. It would be 24 to 48 hours before we knew if she would survive or not and the chances were not good. They needed to assess her to confirm that diagnosis, to see whether she was progressing. It was all a bit of a blur.
I remember holding on to my husband and thinking "I wish that stupid woman would stop screaming". Then I realised that stupid woman was me. I could hear this horrible wailing and didn't realise it was me making that noise.
Over the next few days it certainly got worse before it got better. Basically we were told her injuries were not survivable. I can't remember what day that was. So that's when we made the decision that Hollie should donate her organs. We knew she wanted to do that. We had talked about that as a family. It was easy for us to offer her organs but it was an extremely hard process to actually sign her away.
You get a special donor support person. They are really really good and thorough. They really hold your hand through that process. But it's a very clinical process, an extremely hard process to go through. The nurse who talked us through it was so professional, so supportive. She was absolutely brilliant.
The MRI to ensure that the brain had died - the final procedure - revealed Hollie did indeed have brain activity. So the process was delayed but they still thought she was not right. But from there she started to twitch and progress.
I've kind of lost track of the timeline but once she opened her eyes, the progress started to happen. From opening her eyes to looking like she recognised us, to starting to move her hands and her legs. It was nothing short of a miracle.
Now I'm not a particularly religious person, I don't have a religious background, but there is something in the power of support and prayer. We had a phenomenal amount of people sending their prayers our way. It was overwhelming. Where did the miracle come from?
Just before Christmas Hollie's physiotherapist stood her up for the first time. By the time she was back after the Christmas break, Hollie was taking her first steps. My cousin was with me. We jumped up and down and cried and cried like maniacs.
Talking came gradually. She started off by whispering "yes". When she first started talking, she'd get a word stuck in her head. That word was zebra. We don't know why. I'd say "brush your hair". And she'd reply with "give me the zebra", meaning hair brush. We joked about it for a long time. Apparently its common with brain injury patients. They get what they call sticky words. They can't get a word so they replace it with something.
The dates of her milestones were all very weird. Her accident was on November 18, we went to the brain injury unit on December 18 at Ranui in Auckland and on the 18th of January we were discharged from Auckland and came home.
The team of nurses at both ICU [intensive care unit] and HDU [high dependency unit] they are nothing short of phenomenal people. They are amazing, they are so dedicated and so hardworking. They are really uniquely placed that they deal with tragedy every day. They were really super supportive of us.
But the health system itself is broken.
Departments don't talk to departments, you are constantly given conflicting advice or information, you have to find out information rather than it being given to you. You get little to no support when you are from out of town. For instance, in Auckland we had nowhere to stay. You get no financial help. I did not come home for two months. I left the hospital and that was it until we got home.
If you have a complaint, there is nowhere for the complaint to go. All those posters on the walls saying, "You have a right to be heard" that's all bulls***. We had several complaints, all about the system, how we were treated and the information we were receiving. The only place to go is the health ombudsman.
There is no respect for tikanga Maori. Even though they have a lot of signs, bilingual signs. Really it's homage. The bottom line for Maori is whanau.
We were told at one stage we should go and leave Hollie on her own. Not only is that wrong for any parent, no matter what culture, but it flies in the face of tikanga Maori.
You hear it from everyone, not just patients, but staff too. The system is inherently broken.
We are still facing problems when we show up to appointments because her information hasn't been passed on.
I have taken a year off work without pay. Hollie is just coming out of the end of post-traumatic amnesia. She still really requires 24-hour supervision for health and safety reasons. Things like crossing the road, even though she can see the cars coming, sometimes she doesn't take it in ... she may still step out in front of them. It's everyday things. Sometimes we might forget things like brush teeth, put deodorant on. Basically she had to learn everything from scratch - toilet, walk, talk.
People who know Hollie really well understand and can see that her body language has changed, her speech has changed. People who don't know may not realise much is wrong with her at all. When she starts speaking people might realise she has a brain injury.
She's probably at 75 per cent of where she was personality wise. She was super, super independent. She was also really mature for her age. And her interests have changed. She was interested in fashion and makeup but that has diminished. And her maturity is not like it was. But she's still really really kind and has got a good sense of humour.
She struggles with temperature fluctuations. We are all freezing cold on these freezing nights we've been having and she's fine. On the hot sunny days she complains she's cold. And she still has scarring under her chin where she would have smashed it on the dashboard.
But she improves every day. Her memory is improving. A brain injury is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Some parts are functioning well and others are lacking. It's about joining up that jigsaw puzzle.
We were told she might not have walked or talked for six months but clearly she's doing all that really well. She has a wee way to go with cognitive ability and independence but every week there is an improvement. Not huge ones like the walking and talking and eating but the cognitive ones are huge from our perspective. We are hoping for a return to normal life but that could be different to what it was. We will have a new normal. We will get a normal eventually.
Hollie has four support people around her. One is a speech and language therapist who works on her cognitive ability. Another is a physiotherapist and at the moment they are swimming together. It's about keeping her fitness up. Swimming is good for left and right brain co-ordination.
She also has an occupational therapist. They work together on life skills stuff. They cook lunch together. She's the one who has been focused on everyday things; how to brush your teeth, live independently.
She also has a psychologist who is there to support emotional development and to support our family.
She sees the three therapists twice a week each and the psychologist once a week. We write up a plan on what Hollie's day is going to look like. It's quite important to keep her in a routine. It's quite important for reference points to go to so she knows what happens today.
A return-to-study plan will come later as she works with her cognitive team. She would have been year 13 this year, her last year of school, and she needs to get another 22 credits to pass level 3. That's the goal.
Hollie has read all the Facebook updates we did during her recovery. We've kept all her articles from the paper and we go through them so she can have an understanding of what happened.
Hollie lacks a little bit of insight into what happened. She's starting to gain it now. She is emotionally detached from the situation but it will come. She's upset by the fact it will be a long time before she gets her driver's licence and does other things teenagers like to do like go to parties, staying over at friends' houses. That's a fair way off but it is starting to annoy her now.
I hope to be back at work at the beginning of next year. It might mean she has a part-time caregiver with her. We just have to play that by ear. Maybe at the beginning of next year she can get back into part-time study, even if it's supported study.
We as parents, sometimes put too much faith in our teenagers' ability to handle driving conditions. Don't get me wrong, Keani did nothing wrong, it was a complete accident. There was certainly no drugs, alcohol or speed involved.
I've been guilty of this with my older daughter. I'd say, "I'm not spending money on a car... we all drove s***boxes when we were growing up". I would rethink that now. I would put money into a good car with a good safety rating.
I remember my eldest daughter wanted a hot-looking Skyline that was actually a piece of junk. It needs to have airbags all around it.
We have spoken via online messages with the other family of the woman who died, Tilly Marjoribanks. I've been up and visited her grave and paid my respects. People aren't aware that I knew her as part of our Te Puke community. I stopped and chatted with her on the street a couple of times. I think down the track we might see if we can get together with them.
Hollie's recovery is nothing short of a miracle. Our close friends like Tracey and Dyl, Kath and Jude and family and our community were so supportive. The amount of prayers that were going for Hollie, people sending good will, came from all over the place, Australia, even England and America but particularly our local community. It's been overwhelming. We are so grateful. We are so grateful to have Hollie back.
Six months ago I never ever doubted Hollie would come back to us. I was getting cross at everyone who was saying otherwise. I knew in my heart of hearts she was not going to leave her mumma. I thought we would still be struggling with wheelchairs and stuff. But you made it bubba!
A note from Hollie
At the moment it's very boring, a bit slow because I don't do anything.
I want to be a social worker. I've been working towards that for ages. Because I can work with people and that will be cool. I don't really know how to not be nice to people.
Before the accident I volunteered for Plunket, raising money. I love working [with] children.
My mum has been really good because she's always here. She took a whole year off.
I can't remember anything about the accident. But I know I can't stay over at people's houses. I can't stay at Keani's. I could do super duper cool things before.
I feel interested [in the newspaper articles] because I want to know more. But I don't get panicky about anything.
I won't be back [to study] until next year. It's very annoying but good. I don't want a caregiver. Someone I don't know coming to look after me.