LOVETTSVILLE, Va. — Grace Costello says it still feels like a dream.
What was supposed to be a fun trip to buy ice cream for her young daughter turned into a painful nightmare.
Despite her harrowing journey, the 23-year-old mother is in better spirits as she shares her journey of recovery nearly three months after a tree impaled her abdomen.
She suffered three spinal fractures, five broken ribs, a collapsed lung and liver lacerations. Costello also endured injuries to her heart, diaphragm and colon. Her list also includes having her right kidney removed, four surgeries and multiple blood transfusions.
If anyone is surprised Costello is still alive, it would be her.
"It doesn't feel real," Costello told WUSA9. "People are just in shock hearing about it and I lived to tell about it."
The incident was every bit of a freak accident. On Feb. 19, she and her four-year-old daughter Gia were on their way to buy ice cream when a tree fell on top of their car on U.S. 15 near Lovettsville Road in Loudoun County, according to authorities.
While it has not been officially determined if weather played a role, the day was gusty because of storms.
A tree limb crashed into her windshield and pinned her against her seat. Costello does not remember the moment of impact but recalls the feelings of panic and confusion.
"I thought the branch was just wedged up against my abdomen but I didn't think at all I was impaled until EMS got there," she said. "It was a massive hole and everything's been damaged. I can't even describe how painful it was. It's probably the most pain I will ever feel in my life."
Costello described the limb as a "massive log." First responders had to rip open the roof of her car to get her out.
Gia remained in her seat unscathed. Although she was crying and terrified at first, Gia eventually became a source of strength.
"It wasn't until she started crying that I snapped back into reality," Costello recalled. "She would try and calm me down and say it's okay and help is coming. I mean she's four so that was totally wise beyond her years."
Costello was flown to Inova Fairfax where she remained in the ICU for 19 days.
Her recovery included multiple visits from home care nurses but roughly three months later, Costello has been able to find a new apartment, buy a new car and conduct day-to-day activities on her own again.
"It really shows how short life is," Costello said. "I'm very happy for people to read about my story and feel like they can live life with a bit more purpose."
Costello hopes to return to her job working for a dental office later this month.
She also gets a chance to say thank you to the first responders who rescued her. There will be a meet and greet next week at the Lucketts Fire and Rescue Station with Loudoun County Fire and Rescue, Loudoun Sheriff, AirCare and Fredrick County Fire and Rescue. The neighbor who called 911 is also expected to be in attendance.