On Thursday morning, Jennifer Flewellen embraced the day with a heart full of gratitude, eager to embark on her therapeutic journey. She managed to eat cereal puffs, do some stretches, a bit of speech therapy and exercise on the therapy mat.
This particular Thursday held a special significance for Flewellen. It has been six years since a life-altering car crash on Sept. 25, 2017, left this Michigan mom in a nearly five-year coma from which doctors thought she would never wake up.
She finally woke up on Aug. 25, 2022, and she’s now deemed a living miracle by astonished doctors as she’s turning her recovery into a story of resilience and hope.
“In the beginning, say the first two to four weeks, I cried every day. I just was a mess, and I couldn't deal with it. I couldn't accept it,” said Peggy Means, Flewellen’s mom. “[Doctors] pretty much told me ‘Let her go,’ and I figured I was the one that decided that’s not going to happen. So, I'm going to be the one that stands beside her.”
And she's been by her 41-year-old daughter's side, watching how much she's improved in the last year.
Due to her condition, Flewellen, a mother of three boys aged 21, 19, and 17, missed a lot of her kids' football games in the past several years. But now that she’s in recovery, she has attended three of her youngest son's games, including his Senior Night at Niles High School, which was a huge deal considering this was something that made a big part of her daily life before the accident.
“Jen's a firecracker. She was very big on the kids being in sports; she kind of took charge of everything. Really bossy,” said Means. "She was always wrapped around them boys. She was very active at the school. She was very active on many field trips, making sandwiches for the football players.”
Right now, Flewellen can't walk, get dressed, or eat on her own, and her speech is very limited.
But a group of over 100 doctors and medical staff at the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are helping her regain her strength so she can go back to enjoying her family to the fullest. And they have a lot of hope for her, as they think it's a miracle that she has improved so quickly, all things considered.
“Many thought she wasn't going to survive, and then she got out of her coma, and then I think mom really noticed her getting better in probably the last six months, so that is really rare for people to improve this far out,” said Rehabilitation Physician Dr. Ralph Wang. “I think statistically, probably less than 2% are improving at this stage, maybe even less than 1%, so it is rare.”
Dr. Wang tells Scripps News that Flewellen will be staying with them for three to four weeks, during which they anticipate she'll gain more mobility and regain the ability to do everyday tasks we often take for granted, like putting on socks.
“If she can get into a wheelchair by herself, that'd be a huge win because it'd be so much easier for mom to get her out of bed. And you know, she has a feeding tube, but if she can eat more on her own and even feed herself, that would be a lot,” said Dr. Wang. “If we can get her a walker and walk 10 to 15 feet, that would be huge too because she hasn't walked in so long.”
Following the three or four weeks at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, Dr. Wang says that Flewellen could transition to an outpatient program or a home-based therapy program, providing opportunities for further improvement, possibly even progressing to walking with a walker.
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