One minute, Ashley Dubey, 5, was a carefree kindergartner, waiting for her school bus with her mother. The next minute, she was flung into the air and slammed down hard on the ground after being struck by a hit-and-run driver.
Fairfax County police arrested and charged the driver, Duane Thompson, 38, of Manassas, with felony hit-and-run, and he will eventually have his day in court. But for young Ashley, of Centreville's Crofton Commons community, every day is a trial as she struggles to recover from her injuries.
Her life has changed dramatically since the accident and, unlike her classmates at Bull Run Elementary, her summer will be no vacation. Instead, it will be filled with therapy, medication and hard work. Ashley's been in a rehabilitation hospital in Charlottesville since last Monday, June 17; before that, she was at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children.
"She had five surgeries in her brain to relieve the pressure," said her mother, Seema Dubey. "She had the best doctors."
The incident occurred May 2 on Old Centreville Road, and Ashley suffered a severe head injury affecting her speech and vision, plus movement on her right side. She's now in Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center in Charlottesville.
The best news is that she's finally coming out of her coma. Said Dubey: "The most exciting thing is that she can keep her eyes open and can talk a little bit."
With her mother at her bedside, Ashley began speaking again last Wednesday, June 19, for the first time since the accident, nearly seven weeks earlier. Her speech therapist asked if she knew who was holding her hand, and she replied, "My mommy." The therapist then asked if she knew her mommy's name, and Ashley said, "Seema."
"I was crying," said her mother. "It was very emotional."
However, there's still a problem. Since sustaining the head injury, Ashley's been unable to compose and say long sentences, as she had before. "Usually, she just answers questions 'yes' or 'no,'" said Dubey. "And when I talk to her, she repeats things to me. I'll say, 'I miss you,' and she'll say, 'I miss you, too, Mommy.' Or I'll say, 'I love you, Ashley,' and she'll say, 'I love you, too, Mommy.'"
She recently got a phone call from her friend Geneva, and that made her happy. But, said her mother, she's unable to actually carry on a conversation: "If I ask her if she wants to go home, she says, 'Yeah,' and then she gets a sad look on her face."
The youngster also has vision problems. "She still can't focus her eyes," said Dubey. "You can't tell if she's looking at you. I'll be sitting on the left, and she thinks I'm sitting on the right."
In addition, Ashley's right arm and leg still don't function. "The doctors say some part of her brain is definitely injured, but they can't tell which part," said Dubey. "They don't want to predict what'll happen to her; they want to wait and see. They're hoping she won't be here longer than three or four months."
She doesn't know how much Ashley remembers about the accident, and she's not mentioning it. "I just tell her we're here to get her better and everything's going to be fine," said Dubey. "I just thank God for the miracle that she's come this far."
Meanwhile, the local community is raising money to help with Ashley's medical bills, and Dubey appreciates everyone's compassion and generosity. "I just can't believe it," she said. "My husband and I were wondering how we'd pay all the bills." He already works two jobs — as an airline baggage-handler and a security guard, and she's a hairdresser at Salon Cielo in the Tysons II Galleria.
Fund-raising cut-a-thons for Ashley will be held there Sundays, June 30 and July 7, from 9 a.m.-noon. "Everybody asked what they could do to help," said salon manager Lucy Mendizabal. "What happened to Ashley really touched everyone."
Centreville's Burger King held a fund-raiser, last Wednesday, June 19, donating 10 percent of its 5-11 p.m. proceeds — $273 — to Ashley. The restaurant is also displaying a donation bottle so interested customers may continue helping out.
Before school ended, Bull Run Elementary collected $900 for Ashley, and the Crofton Commons community raised $710 for her last Saturday via a yard sale. A bank account has also been established. Contributions, payable to Harsh and Dubey, may be sent to: Bank of America, 14122 Lee Highway, Centreville, VA 20120.