The Comeback of a Coma Survivor

It's difficult to envision that Amanda Edwards was once trapped in a coma from which one doctor believed she might never awaken, except in a vegetative state.

She is now 27 years old and married, with an engaging smile and a playful sense of humor. She recently gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Audrey.

When Amanda pushes Audrey's carriage along the sidewalks of her Orange County, Calif., apartment complex, she walks with a limp — her right side was paralyzed by the accident that placed her in a coma, but she has few other visible manifestations of the severe brain injury she suffered in May 1997.

Regaining her life, her appearance and her sense of normality was a long, arduous and painful process.

Ten years ago, Amanda, then a popular cheerleader at Newport Harbor High School, was thrown out of a crowded sport utility vehicle when it flipped over at what police said was a high rate of speed. She was riding with a group of high school students, most of whom had been drinking. She was not wearing a seat belt.

"It was extremely difficult," said her mother, Chris Maese, who is divorced from Amanda's father. "All I knew that I could do is pray. … I was helpless."

A Community Effort

Amanda was hospitalized in a coma at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, Calif., and within days, she was also at the center of an extraordinary community effort to restore for her a chance at the life she had dreamed of.

"My friends were always there," Amanda said. "They never went away."

On June 7, 1997, the night of what would have been her high school prom, her schoolmates showed up at the hospital, dressed for the dance they would attend later. They decorated the corridors with pictures as Amanda lay unresponsive in her room three floors above. And before they went to the prom, they recorded messages for her.

"We're all praying for you," said one, "and we love you."

One constant visitor to Amanda's bedside was another cheerleader Sydney Burkhardt, who is now married and has one child. "That was a life-changing experience," she said. "That was the day that a lot of us grew up."

Burkhardt remembers the accident as transforming because of the trauma that was suddenly and unexpectedly introduced into their lives. When doctors confirmed six weeks after the accident that Amanda was slowly coming out of the coma, Burkhardt continued to accompany her friend during often agonizing physical therapy at the Meridian Neuro Care Center.

Recovery 'Like Growing up All Over Again'

What frequently was a look of distress on Amanda's face was a reflection not only of pain, but of the raw emotions she felt because her brain hadn't recovered to the point where she could interpret or communicate what was happening to her. The long and exhaustive rehabilitation was videotaped by her mother.

"I subconsciously told myself that when she woke up she needed to see where she was," said Maese. "And then when she was awake and she was learning how to walk, learning how to talk, I wanted her to see where she had been so that she can give God the glory. Because when you look at the tapes it also helps you to strive to be better than what you see."

Watching some of those 10-year-old tapes reminds Amanda of her journey — back then she was still in physical therapy, still subject to confusion and preoccupied with the idea of going home.

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