Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

College student makes strong recovery after brain injury

January 24, 2023

On her way home to Grand Island, Nebraska, Wayne State College senior Blakely Wooden was in a severe car crash. She spent weeks in the intensive care unit at Bryan West recovering from a traumatic brain injury and the resulting surgery to repair multiple breaks to her pelvis and clavicle.

She remembered very little of the accident.

“It was just a regular Friday,” Blakely recalled. “I was going to class; I got lunch with my roommate, and I don’t remember much after that.”

But her mom remembered every moment, like it was yesterday.

“A call you never want to get and a drive for an hour and a half, not knowing,” Sonya Wooden, Blakeley’s mom, said. “We just prayed the whole way to Lincoln, just let her be breathing.”

As a 22-year-old business major with an active social life, Blakeley now found herself unable to do the things she loved most and her life looked a lot different.

“I couldn't walk; I couldn't eat; I couldn't talk for a while, and that was really hard on me,” Blakeley said. As Blakeley worked hard to regain everyday skills in Madonna’s specialized brain injury rehabilitation program, her therapists encouraged her to start a journal.

“Her therapist had her doing it every single day,” Sonya said. “So that we could look back; we could reflect from the beginning and just show, this is how far you've come. You know, you may not feel like that today, but if you look back, you've made tremendous progress in such a small amount of time.”

Blakeley’s care team watched her make gains throughout her recovery.

“Blakely was a joy to work with and was always willing to do whatever we asked of her,” Rachel Lindstedt, her speech-language pathologist said. “When she first came to us, she was NPO (not able to eat or drink anything orally) but was quickly started on a diet following an instrumental swallow study. She also progressed from needing cues to recall the month, year and where she was at.”

In a few weeks, Blakeley progressed from being on a tracheostomy tube to using her voice, making grocery runs, managing budgets, and even driving on virtual streets. And as her team got to know her interests, they incorporated her favorite hobbies into therapy too.

“So, she was a golfer in high school and loves to play golf with her parents too,” Betsy Havekost, an inpatient occupational therapist, said.

“It's one of their favorite hobbies together, and that was something that I grew up doing as well. So we got to bond over that and create some opportunities for her to practice her balance. It was just something enjoyable and fun for her, but we were also able to get some activity tolerance being up and standing, too.”

“I think Madonna is special because it’s like real life,” Sonya said after watching her daughter use a putter for the first time in months. “There's not a situation here that we don't experience outside.”

Fifty-four days after the accident, Blakeley is on par to make a strong recovery. Her mom is grateful for the clinical expertise her daughter received and the deep connections Blakeley created along the way.

“They go above and beyond every single day for my daughter,” Sonya said. “There are no words there, you know; there's not enough gratitude that I could say about all of the staff here. I am forever grateful for how they helped my daughter.”

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