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November 22, 2012
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Breckenridge's 'miracle girl' soon to be a mom

Less than an hour after longtime local Lee Gilbert learned his wife, Brittany, had been in a bike accident leaving her with a massive head injury, doctors delivered a second shock: Brittany was pregnant.

And both her life and the baby's were in serious danger.

But in the last three months, the woman friends call "miracle girl" has made a faster recovery than anyone dared to expect. Doctors say her baby boy is perfectly healthy and due to arrive in April.

"It's a miracle inside a miracle," Brittany Gilbert said.

Gilbert spent just a few short weeks in the hospital before returning home to Summit County, where she has lived for more than a decade. Now, three months after the accident that almost killed her, she is back at work and seems to have escaped any long-term brain damage.

"You live every day to the fullest," Gilbert said. "I've always believed that, but it's like living proof."

Gilbert was riding her bike home from a night out with friends in Breckenridge when she was struck by another cyclist.

She doesn't know exactly what happened next, though it's possible the other rider flipped off his bicycle and his head struck hers. However it happened, Gilbert suffered severe trauma to the right side of her head and her brain was swelling rapidly.

The other cyclist called 911, and paramedics responded immediately, transporting her first to Summit Medical Center in Frisco and then by helicopter to St. Anthony's hospital in Denver.

She was in surgery within 55 minutes of the crash.

Doctors had to remove a portion of her skull to reduce the swelling in her brain and put her into a medically induced coma. For the next two days, Gilbert's family, friends and community held their breath, waiting for some news of her condition.

"It was pretty scary," said Peter Bakken, manager at Hearthstone Restaurant, where Gilbert works.

But Gilbert's recovery began almost immediately. Within days she was sitting up, talking and trying to get back to work.

"I was like, tell Pete I'll be there Sunday," Gilbert said, laughing. "I sounded like I was really concerned."

She spent just a few weeks in the hospital, during which time she learned she was pregnant. Like Lee, Gilbert said she was upset and frightened at first. But doctors have never used the phrase "high-risk pregnancy."

They did, however, decide to wait until she was through her first trimester to replace the portion of her skull that had been removed after the accident. During the ensuing weeks, Gilbert learned to be herself again. She went through some physical therapy and general life training to ensure she remembered how to handle day-to-day tasks. Everything from walking to balancing a checkbook came back easily, she said.

Within a few weeks, her doctors were able to replace the portion of her skull that had been removed, securing it in place with pins and a few plates she says look like "snowflakes."

In the days after the accident, Breckenridge and the surrounding community rallied around Gilbert and her family. Within hours Facebook pages and websites were tracking her recovery. Gilbert was receiving daily phone calls and a crowd of visitors in the ICU. Donation drives at both of the restaurants where Gilbert works and a packed benefit event raised thousands of dollars to help the Gilberts cover bills and medical expenses.

"It was better than anything else to know that people had been thinking about us," Gilbert said. "This community is family."

No one really knows why Gilbert has been able to recover so quickly and so completely from such a serious injury. It might have been the fact that she was transported to Denver and in surgery within what's known as the golden hour, the first 60 minutes after impact.

Others suspect it's Gilbert herself who made the difference.

"She made an amazing recovery," Bakken said. "She's just that type of upbeat positive person and I think that's one of the reasons she recovered so quickly."

Gilbert, of course, has her own ideas.

"It's amazing what love does," she said. "It's not just your partner, it's your friends. You get shown it in so many different ways."

She says she's not angry about the accident, or even with the man who caused it. Quite the opposite, in fact, she says she feels grateful to the other cyclist, whose 911 call helped her get to the hospital so quickly.

With money left over from the outpouring of donations after the accident, Gilbert said she plans to donate money back to a bike safety program, possibly providing helmets and bike lights locally.

"I can't wait to pay it forward," she said.


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The Summit Daily Updated Nov 22, 2012 04:39PM Published Nov 22, 2012 04:36PM Copyright 2012 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.