, Salem, MA

November 27, 2009

Six months later, MBTA crash victim still struggling

Injured Salem student has returned to college but still has problems

By Tom Dalton

SALEM — Samantha Mattei is better, but not all better.

It has been six months since the 19-year-old was seriously injured in an MBTA trolley crash. She is still dealing with the mental and physical after effects of the accident that left her with a concussion and two herniated discs.

She walks with a cane.

She takes painkillers for her back.

She has bouts of vertigo.

Mattei, the daughter of Fred and Cecile Mattei, was among the dozens who went to the hospital following the Friday night, May 8, accident in the tunnel between Government Center and Park Street. Police said an MBTA driver was sending a text message on his cell phone when the Green Line car he was driving rear-ended another T car.

The good news for Mattei — and there is a lot of good news — is that the dean's list student returned to Merrimack College this fall for her sophomore year. She is not able to take a full course load, but she is doing well in the difficult courses she is taking: organic chemistry, Physics 1 and Introduction to Psychology.

"My lowest grade is a B-," she said.

Due to memory and attention issues, Mattei is given extra time on tests. She needs the time, she said.

"When I'm putting thoughts to paper, it takes me time to order stuff," she said.

She suffers from what doctors term "post-concussion syndrome." Her head was thrown against a post or seat inside the trolley, leaving her with a gash over her left eye that took five stitches to close. In the days following the crash, she had headaches, dizziness and trouble speaking.

"I went to speech therapy for eight weeks," she said. "I still have issues. I stutter every now and then if I'm very tired or stressed."

The scariest part, she said, is the dizziness, which she hopes will go away with time.

"I have a bad time going down stairs. I get wicked dizzy. I get head rushes and things like that."

Mattei uses a cane for balance and to take weight off her back when it gets tired. She takes over-the-counter pills almost daily and, when it gets bad, prescription painkillers.

"It gets worse as the day wears on, but I can carry stuff on my back now," she said.

This fall, she has been going to something called "neuro-feedback therapy" once or twice a week to increase her attention and memory.

"I haven't been in a couple of weeks. ... School gets in the way," she said.

She came home on weekends to go to physical therapy at Shaughnessy-Kaplan Rehabilitation Hospital. The therapy sessions just ended, but the back problems are not gone.

"The doctor said I'm going to have back pain for the rest of my life, which is annoying," she said. "I could have done without that."

Mattei's family has contacted an attorney and likely will file a lawsuit against the MBTA. She's leaving that issue to them.

Fortunately, through it all, Mattei has maintained a positive attitude, which has not been easy this fall semester. In addition to her post-crash injuries, she has battled bronchitis and the flu. Somehow, she managed to keep up her grades and to work at an on-campus job.

"I think I had about a week I've been healthy since the start of school," she said. "I'm doing pretty well right now, I've got to say."