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It was two months and two days to the date after she was pried out of a wrecked car that 16-year-old Shaela Warkentin walked out of the hospital. She couldn’t see her family’s joy, but she sure felt it.
“She’s adapting to home life – the knowledge she won’t see what we see – but she has a really good attitude,” said father, Ken Warkentin.
On March 8, 2011, just weeks before her 16th birthday, the car Shaela was riding in was rear-ended on the way home from a youth group meeting at her church. It took nearly an hour to cut her out of the car. Her family watched and prayed as the “Jaws of Life” did its job.
Shaela was rushed to Community Regional Medical Center’s Level 1 trauma center with life-threatening injuries she suffered after being thrown through the rear window and back again into the car. She had lost her left eye and her right one was seriously damaged.
Neurosurgeon Meg Verrees and maxillofacial surgeon Robert Julian were part of the team to help Shaela when she first came in. “It was nice how everyone worked together to save her life and then her appearance,” said Dr. Verrees.
Dr. Verrees, who often does surgery on trauma victims, said Shaela’s injuries were unusually severe and on both the front and back of her head. “There was a large hole in the base of her skull and cerebral-spinal fluid was flowing out around all the damage…Her bone was shattered so I had to take titanium mesh to reconstruct parts of her skull. Glass had landed in the brain…And there were blood clots pressing down on the brain. If we didn’t take those out we knew she could die.”
Dr. Verrees said with so much trauma she had to be careful not to cause more injury with her repair work, especially since some of the glass was close to crucial areas of the brain that regulate hormone functions. “It’s not only important to know what to do but what not to do,” she explained. “I’m really pleased. She recovered remarkably.”
Dr. Julian took over after that. “I controlled facial and head bleeding and removed hundreds of glass fragments from her face and head,” he said. “Once the cranial surgery was completed by Dr. Verrees and the right eye repair was completed by Dr. [Richard] Mendoza, I then did a repair of her displaced facial fractures and repaired her massive upper facial laceration.”
On April 3, almost a month after the accident, friends and family celebrated Shaela’s 16th birthday in the hospital. It wasn’t where they wanted her to be on her special day, but they were thankful she was doing so well.
After another month of surgeries, treatments and rehabilitation, Shaela was ready to go home. Purple ribbons adorned the trees in her neighborhood to welcome her. She was greeted by family members, friends and her dog, Bella, as she stepped out of the car. It wasn’t going to be easy, said the Bullard high sophomore. She acknowledged many challenges ahead and said she is readjusting her life goals.
“I had a lot of dreams and stuff that I wanted to do and be and become but it’s definitely going to change,” she said. “I know that the Lord is opening up doors for me and there are definitely things that I can still do, even if I’m always going to be blind.”
Mary Lisa Russell and Erin Kennedy reported this story . They can be reached at MedWatchToday@CommunityMedical.org.