TBI Success Story
Two years, four months and six days after a drunken driver changed her life forever, Mija S. walked out of the rehabilitation hospital where she had been living and head home. “We’re pretty excited,” Larry L., Mija’s father, who moved from Salina to Overland Park in June to be near Meadowbrook Rehabilitation Hospital in Gardner, said Monday. “She stayed there an extra couple of months so that she would be able to walk out that door, and she will walk out tomorrow.”
Home in a new location
Home is a different place now than it would have been if a third-time drunk driving offender had not crossed the center line while driving with a blood-alcohol content more than twice the legal limit and struck Mija’s vehicle head-on as she drove from Lindsborg to work at a McPherson elementary school on the morning of Dec. 20, 2013. Now her family will remain in Overland Park, where she will continue to receive outpatient therapies, and she will be near Blue Valley schools, where her two youngest daughters are students, Larry said.
A long trek
Mija, who taught physical education for the McPherson School District, has had to work to regain mobility, speech and the ability to perform daily tasks since sustaining a traumatic brain injury in the crash. Larry said Mija is continuing to work on balance and must focus on each movement she makes, he said. Although her short-term memory can be problematic, she generally recognizes old friends and acquaintances.
“It’s been a long trek,” Larry said. “At first, we didn’t know if she would live. That first week it was touch and go, and we were told to prepare to let her go, so to have our daughter alive is a big deal.”
Larry said for the first year, Mija was unable to speak. After a medical procedure to redo a shunt in December 2014, he received a phone call he will never forget. “Hi Dad,” he heard Mija say.
Mija’s Law enacted
The driver was convicted of aggravated battery while driving under the influence. It was his third DUI. In 2014, a judge handed down the 34-month sentence, which was the longest sentence state law allowed at that time. The driver was released from prison on March 25, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections website. “We hope he’s sobered up and learned a lesson,” Larry said. The Ls provided testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in February 2015, and area lawmakers were instrumental in the passage of Mija’s Law. The law amended the sanction for an aggravated battery DUI resulting in permanent disability of another to eliminate the option of probation and set the sentencing range from three years, two months to 14 years, four months.
‘She’s been our miracle’
After the crash, Mija spent about a month at Via Christi Hospital in Wichita before transferring to a rehabilitation hospital in Nebraska, and then to Meadowbrook. Larry said she’s spent nearly two years at Meadowbrook, and her mother, Kathy L., has been with her daily as she progressed. “She’s kind of been our miracle, and she continues to make progress,” Kathy said. Larry said several family members plan to be there when Mija leaves the hospital. He said he thinks he might pull out the grill and grill Mija a hamburger on her first night at home. “It’ll be a big day,” he said.
On Tuesday, April 26, Mija S. achieved her goal by walking out of Meadowbrook Rehabilitation Hospital on her way back home.