Support & Stories

“We Chose To Be Thankful.”

One family shares the horrifying tale of their daughter’s near-death experience – and why they think ADHD is ultimately what helped her recover.

A family vacations happily at the beach. Their daughter's ADHD drug holiday is a success.
A family vacations happily at the beach. Their daughter's ADHD drug holiday is a success.

Emily Galbraith, 8, spins like a ballerina in the cramped living room of her parents’ Mesa, Arizona apartment before she falls dramatically to the floor.

It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out that Emily has ADHD, as does her brother, Michael, 11, and possibly her sister, Bethany, 4. The siblings alternately leap, shriek and whirl around the room.

But Emily’s grace and good cheer belie her experience last year, when she was nearly stabbed to death by a deranged 14-year-old neighbor, who is now safely locked inside a Tucson juvenile prison.

“It’s our belief that angels were sent down to make things happen the way they did to save her life,” says her father Norm, a furniture repairman. After the boy stabbed her twenty times, Emily somehow found the strength to walk from behind a storage container to a parking lot where bystanders called the police.

Today, her physical scars are hardly evident, and her psychic scars are disappearing too. In psychotherapy, her once chaotic play (a sign of working out conflicts) has returned to normal – at least ADHD normal. She no longer has trouble sleeping.

In fact, Norm thinks Emily’s lightening-quick ADHD metabolism may have sped her recovery. Less than two months after the attack, she was back in school and hasn’t missed a day since. “She’s a spunky little girl,” says her school principal. “That spunkiness is what got her through this ordeal.”

Even so, there’s been some quirky behavior. Recently Emily began rolling around on the floor of her third grade classroom. “Is it something that’s coming from the attack, or is it something coming from the ADHD,” Norm wonders. “Or is it how a typical eight-year-old acts?”

It’s not the first time Norm has played amateur psychologist. He admits that until Michael was diagnosed at age three, he thought ADHD “was not a real thing. I thought it was lazy parents.” Now he knows better, in triplicate.

Norm and his wife, Darcy, continually take parenting classes, read books and attend counseling. Parents of ADHD children “go to these parenting classes to change their kids,” observes Norm. “You have to change yourself, how you react.”

Darcy recounts many tearful shopping experiences. Once, when Michael spilled a pile of water jug lids onto the floor, Darcy made a quick exit in order to prevent Emily from doing the same – or worse. Outside, another shopper criticized Darcy harshly, demanding Michael be made to pick up the bottle tops. Darcy could not explain why that wasn’t an option.

“Unless you have a kid with ADHD, you do not understand.” Darcy says. “The parenting classes we’ve had, the anger control classes; they teach us not to over-react.”

It’s easy when they have ADHD to get upset at them,” adds Norm. “Then you get a shock like this, you think, just enjoy it. Just put up with it.”

Think of how much worse it would be if she wasn’t there,” he says. “We had a choice to be angry or thankful. We chose to be thankful.”

Jim Walsh is a reporter for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix. This article is taken from the December 2001 issue of ADDitude Magazine. Subscribe today for more from ADDitude