Each week, Sarah McLevish’s mother meets with her daughter’s doctors, nurses, caseworkers and therapists to review her progress and talk about when she can come home.
McLevish is in a semiconscious state. She opens her eyes and can turn them toward sounds, such as when someone says her name. But she’s not fully aware of what’s happening around her, said her mother, Bobbi Hubbard, on the morning her daughter should have been starting her junior year at Franklin Community High School.
“Everything she does is more of a reflex,” Hubbard said.
McLevish, 16, nearly drowned in June, when she was swept over the dam in the Big Blue River in Edinburgh. Four other Franklin teens, Jason Moran, Michael Chadbourne, Mark Nally and Trent Crabb, followed her over the dam trying to save her. Moran, Chadbourne and McLevish were all pulled under the water by the current at the base of the dam.
Moran never resurfaced and was found days later. When McLevish and Chadbourne were pulled out of the water they weren’t breathing and didn’t have pulses. People nearby performed CPR on the teens, but Chadbourne died four days later.
Hubbard constantly thinks about and is thankful for the boys who kept her daughter alive.
“All along, these boys have always been my heroes. Because without them, I wouldn’t have Sarah,” Hubbard said.
McLevish has been slowly recovering after initially fighting for her life in the days after the accident.
She spent a month at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis where doctors diagnosed her with an anoxic brain injury, which is when the brain is injured because of a lack of oxygen, Hubbard said. She’s been at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health since July 7.
McLevish has a potential date when she could be released from the hospital, but her condition also could change quickly.
Hubbard, McLevish’s sister Katie and stepfather George Hubbard Jr. have to rally each day for McLevish and themselves. Hubbard has an easier time dealing with the stress of her daughter’s ongoing recovery when she’s working with McLevish or has a task to complete. But when she’s by herself with nothing to do, the stress can be overwhelming, she said.
Five days a week, McLevish has six to seven hours of physical, occupational and speech therapy, and a half-day of therapy on Saturdays, Hubbard said.
The goal is to help her regain awareness of what’s happening around her and to enable her body to continue healing. It could take up to two years before McLevish’s mother and doctors know how much she’ll recover.
“Everybody’s ultimate goal — us, the medical team, the school — is to get things as close to normal as we can,” Hubbard said.
McLevish is now in a rehabilitation unit at Riley, and each day her physical and occupational therapists work with her limbs to keep them moving, while a speech therapist uses foods with different tastes and textures to encourage McLevish to swallow.
“They’re really working hard with her, to try to stimulate her senses to try to get her to wake up fully,” Hubbard said.
The doctors and therapists are also trying to get McLevish to breathe on her own.
At Methodist Hospital, McLevish spent part of her time on a ventilator that was breathing for her, and she now has a tracheostomy tube that bypasses her trachea and ensures her airway stays open. McLevish’s doctors have started closing the tube for a few hours at a time so that McLevish can breathe normally and build lung stamina, Hubbard said.
Hubbard is modifying her home so that her daughter can get around in a wheelchair. She knows that the family will have to change the way they live life, but it’s important that McLevish can still spend time outside and that she can return to school when the time is right.
“We’re not really going to change the things that we do, as far as what we’ve always done,” she said.
Hubbard has been on leave from her job as a skilled assembler at Allison Transmission since McLevish was injured, and people in and around Franklin have been working since the tragedy to help support her family.
Nearly $60,000 has been raised in the Franklin Family Fund, which was set up to help the Moran and Chadbourne families pay for funeral expenses and to help McLevish’s family cover medical costs. So far $30,000 has been spent for the three families.
Hubbard is extremely grateful for everyone’s support.
“It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “It’s not anything that you could ever imagine happening.”