Well wishes and support have been pouring in from across the community as a 20-year-old Westchester woman fights for her life following a collision on her bicycle earlier this month.
Brittany Gunnell is currently being treated in the intensive care unit at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, where she has been put in a medically induced coma, said her mother, Denise O’Brien. Following the June 11 accident in which Gunnell suffered a severe head injury, she has undergone three brain surgeries and doctors put her in the coma to allow for the swelling on her brain to heal, O’Brien said.
Doctors told the family that Gunnell is recovering well from the pneumonia she acquired after the crash and they are closely monitoring her intercranial pressure. Family members have been closely by her side and O’Brien said they can feel that Gunnell is fighting to return to them.
“We’re feeling her spirit and soul; she’s with us spiritually,” O’Brien said.
Gunnell was riding her bicycle without a helmet when she collided with an SUV near 77th Street and Emerson Avenue in Westchester at about 8:40 p.m. June 11. She was thrown from her bike and struck the pavement, suffering critical injuries, police said. The driver of the vehicle remained at the scene and was not arrested, said Det. John Elsdon of the Los Angeles Police Department West Traffic division.
“There was no crime involved, it was just an unfortunate accident,” Elsdon said.
Gunnell was on her way home from rehearsals at the Westchester Townhouse theater, where she was scheduled to play the character of Grace in its production of Annie. Gunnell, who has a younger brother, Evan, and younger sister, Brennan, formerly attended the University of California-Berkeley and has recently been studying psychology at Santa Monica College.
In the days following the accident, O’Brien has encouraged loved ones and community members to pray for her daughter’s recovery and said many, including teachers, former classmates and churches have contributed support in a variety of ways.
“We really appreciate the outpouring of support from Westchester; it’s incredible,” said O’Brien, who founded the Westchester nonprofit organization Wings of Love International, which works to help those affected by abuse live self-sufficient lives.
Support has been offered from Gunnell’s former high school, Notre Dame Academy, as well as St. Monica High School in Santa Monica and St. Anastasia Catholic Church and School. Friends and former Notre Dame Academy classmates have also been at the hospital “round the clock” and have held vigils there.
Gunnell’s family have expressed gratitude to their neighbors who have offered to watch over their house, do laundry, water the lawn and even left some gifts inside.
“(Supporters) have been bringing food and flowers and a lot of love,” O’Brien said. “The offering of everything has been amazing.”
Some residents who live on a street where Gunnell and her family used to live remember her as a sweet young girl who has a beautiful singing voice.
“Brittany has always been an incredible talent whether it’s with acting or singing,” said Westchester resident Scott Carni, whose daughter went to school with Gunnell. “Our hearts go out to the family.”
An actress, performer and singer, Gunnell has previously sung the national anthem at Westchester Fourth of July parades and acted in productions of The Music Man and Sound of Music. The 20-year-old has been singing since the age of 4 and acting since she was 8. Her beautiful singing voice is well known in the community, her mother says.
O’Brien believes the family’s Catholic faith has helped keep them together through this difficult time and they are very thankful to all who have stood by them as Brittany continues to fight for her life.
“I tell her every day at the ICU that she has been receiving plenty of support and love due to being the incredible woman she is and the lives she’s touched,” O’Brien said. “All the goodness she has in her life has been coming back by the thousands.”