Twelve years ago, 15-year old Marla Grech was being dropped off home by her then-boyfriend Jeffrey Vella. It was early in the morning when Vella lost control of his car and proceeded to crash straight into a wall and electricity pole. They both made it out alive – but their lives would never be the same again.
Grech suffered permanent disability and went straight into a 12-year coma which ended with her untimely death last Wednesday.
Lovin Malta spoke to Marla Grech’s sister, Romina, about living through this life-changing experience. This is what she had to say.
“Look – it turned our lives upside down; my mother used to spend entire nights with her so I had to do all the housework, but we always found help, we always stuck together as a family,” Romina said.
“The pain we felt when we found out about the accident was far worse than the pain we felt when she passed away. Nothing can really compare to hearing that your sister will be in a coma for the rest of her life.”
After enduring the hardships of being bed-ridden for year after year, bed sores started to take a toll on Marla.
“The bed causes a lot of complications, and we just didn’t want her to suffer. We did all we could for her, the doctors did all they could for her, we gave her more medicine and she just wasn’t responding,” Romina recalled.
“There were just a lot of complications and ultimately, nothing else could be done.”
News of Marla’s death last week triggered an outpouring of tributes. Her old secondary school, Bishop’s Conservatory, gave some insight into the tragic circumstances of the accident.
“Dearest Marla, we hold on to a vivid remembrance, as if it were yesterday. It was your last day at our school, Fifth Form,” the school wrote.
“You greeted us all so lovingly and joyfully – you didn’t know otherwise. You promised to come visit once O’ Levels were over. But your life changed on that fateful evening on March 2008.”
But it wasn’t just Marla and Jeffrey that were affected by this life-changing accident; their families’ lives had to undergo a significant change to accommodate Marla’s needs.
“I have a family with two kids of my own, and I couldn’t just abandon them, I had to keep going to work – but my mind was always with Marla,” Romina recalled.
“She even ended up spending six months at Mater Dei until she was in a stable condition. This meant we had to keep travelling between Malta and Gozo – it was just all so discouraging.”
But Romina and her parents didn’t go through this ordeal all by themselves. Contrary to what one might think, the Grechs ended up forming a close bond with Marla’s boyfriend’s family – the Vellas.
“We didn’t know them before the accident. We literally got to know them at the hospital, and yet they never left our side, they never abandoned us. So why would we abandon them?“
“We took it badly, we really did, but Jeffrey was extremely traumatised himself, he’s human after all. My mother never even shouted at him, we know he didn’t do it on purpose.”
Year after year, doctors kept insisting that it wasn’t possible for Marla to wake up from her coma, but Romina found it hard to lose all hope.
“If you lose hope, you lose courage. There are many cases of patients who woke up from their coma, and yet last time they did an MRI on her, the doctors told us there was no hope,” Romina confessed.
“Eventually we gave up that she was ever going to wake up, but we still took care of her.”
Over the years, Romina developed a bit of a routine for her hospital visits in a bid to make sure she’s constantly looking and feeling her best.
“I used to help her exercise her legs and play with her, I just wanted to make sure that she doesn’t end up looking worse,” Romina said.
“We stayed there till the end, and I’m sure that deep down she knew that someone was there.”
Despite the hardships brought on during those trying twelve years, Romina tried her best to elicit a silver-lining from the situation.
“You can’t give up, and you have to forgive. If you don’t forgive, you’ll never find peace,” Romina said.