Native Detroiter Yolanda Massey, right, and her mother, Aleta Scott, left, share a moment together. Scott has helped Massey with challenges throughout her life.
Photo provided by Yolanda Massey
Ask her mother, and she’ll tell you.
From heart transplants and leg reattachments, to overcoming other medical issues that could have been fatal, this native Detroit mother’s children have gone through it all. Being on the brink of death, and back again, more times than she’d like to recall.
“Oh, we went through some stuff,” Redford resident Aleta Scott, mother of four adult children, said, especially of her youngest, Yolanda Massey, 46, who has faced a myriad of problems for the past two decades stemming from a car crash on Eight Mile Road that should have stopped her forever.
“She’s my miracle,” Scott said of her daughter. “I’m so proud of her — she’s one of the miracles in my family.”
Massey is indeed a miracle and she told The Michigan Chronicle recently how she overcame grand mal seizures (due to the car crash) and multiple, nearly crippling, challenges and bouts of depression that didn’t define her but made her who she is today — resilient.
“February 1994 change my life forever,” Massey, who was 19 years old at the time, said. “My brother and I were in an automobile accident.”
Massey, a passenger, and her brother who was driving, both fell asleep around 5 a.m. on a below-zero February morning with the heat cranked up in the car while on the way to his work — she was going to drive home afterward.
They hit a median on the road and suffered countless injuries. He had to have his legs reattached to his pelvis and have open-heart surgery. She kicked the windshield in to get out of the vehicle and bring help.
“I didn’t think I was hurt; my brother was the most hurt,” she said adding that she had to get some stitches under her eye after her face smacked the dashboard. But then the intuitive, creative woman, who is used to taking on the world and its challenges, noticed a difference in herself. “After that day I could tell something was wrong with me. I couldn’t pull my words out. My understanding was a little off. I just felt totally different. It took seven years of me constantly telling my doctor and for me to finally have a grand mal seizure to find out I had a brain injury.”
Massey, a then-eastside resident, said the local hospital she visited for her follow-up care never told her to look out for seizure symptoms.
“I was having seizures all that time,” she said, adding that they got so bad she would sometimes have them in her sleep — they would cause her to fall down the stairs, forget her daily tasks, get “stuck” where she couldn’t speak or move during conversations and eventually led to job loss because she didn’t remember things.
“I remember waking up in the hospital one day,” Massey said. “I got pajamas on, my hair wrapped up — here comes this lady I felt so close to, I didn’t know who she was. That was my mama. She said, ‘Baby you had a seizure,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I knew something was wrong with me.”
Her battle continued with trying to find the right medications that didn’t have bad side effects including causing an odor, shutting down her organs, and were affordable. At one point in time, she took on a job just to pay for her $500 monthly bottle of pills. At another time she was on 10 different epilepsy medications.
“Some medicine made me depressed,” she said. “My world was like in a tornado all in my head. I looked normal on the outside.”
At 21 she tragically lost her baby during one of the seizures that sent her into early labor at 23 weeks in the mid-1990s. Her only child lived for 24 hours.
Her journey had many highs and lows. And despite her struggles, her mother was always in her corner, letting her know that things were going to be okay and she would overcome — and she did eventually.
“It was a struggle and it was hard but I encouraged her and tried to help her in her endeavors. I told her she could do whatever she wants,” Scott said. “Don’t let it stop you or hinder.”
Massey continued thriving as her six nieces and nephews (later eight) were born and she always watched them and their bond grew strong.
“My nieces and nephews … popped me out of [my depression],” she said adding that they made her feel happy. “They helped me get out of that. I focused on helping them. It was just all that love that just woke me up. And I said you know what I’m going to go back to school.”
She wanted to sharpen her brain especially when she forgot her ABCs and couldn’t teach her niece when she asked her.
“I still have short-term memory damage,” Massey said. “It’s a life-long thing I deal with. A part of my 20’s is blank, I can’t remember stuff.”
Massey, who used to do IT and was used to rigorous, intensive training said that she forgot what she learned and it took her seven years of hard work to get her associate’s degree (she could only do one class a semester) in interior design.
At 32 in 2006, she wound up meeting the love of her life who accepted who she was.
“I never thought I would find somebody … I had all these issues — he did not care,” she said.
Good things continued to come her way. She opened up a daycare business, Hooked on Books Childcare, in 2015 primarily with her nieces and nephews in attendance first. Her mother also works for her.
“It’s been thriving ever since,” she said, adding that she is looking to expand from her Redford home day care to a facility in Detroit connected to her family’s church that’s been around for almost 100 years.
Massey also connected with the economic development initiative ProsperUS Detroit and by August of 2020, she was a graduate from their Entrepreneur Training Program; by December she became the official director for her childcare facility.
“You never know what the future holds — don’t give up,” Massey said.
“God has brought us through. He has brought us through and my faith is trusting Him with my family,” Scott added.