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Teen swept over dam still improving despite suffering severe brain injury, nearly drowning


FRANKLIN, Indiana — Her blue-green eyes still sparkle, and she lets people know when she is happy, uncomfortable or tired.

One year after suffering a severe brain injury when she nearly drowned, Sarah McLevish is making improvements.

The struggles she had with neurostorming, which would cause her to tense up and be in pain, have improved, allowing her to come off one of her medications. She has the strength to hold up her head for longer periods. She is more alert and awake, and she is moving her arms and legs more.

And her family hopes that an upcoming surgery will help her muscles relax and her tension subside.

The past year has had struggles and triumphs for 17-year-old McLevish and her mother, Bobbi Hubbard.

In the first days after McLevish was pulled underwater when she went over a dam in Edinburgh, doctors didn't know whether she would survive. When tests and scans showed significant brain damage, her prognosis wasn't good, Hubbard said.

But her age and her health have helped her recovery and made a huge difference, her mother said.

"It didn't matter what the tests said. It didn't matter what the scans said. She is going to do what she is going to do," Hubbard said.

"She's actually exceeded what a lot of people have expected her to do."

McLevish's injury was severe, impacting all four lobes of her brain. Her mother still sees glimpses into her personality — her stubbornness, her determination and her resilience, but she's still waiting to see her smile. And she misses the teen she was before her injury, fighting with her sister, laughing, being goofy to make others laugh and her strong drive for independence.

"She's not the same as what she was," Hubbard said. "She's the same, but she's different."

In the year since the accident, Hubbard has learned a new way of being a mother to her youngest child. McLevish spent more than two months in hospitals recovering before returning home. And when she did, Hubbard had to learn to adjust to her daughter's new needs. Caring for McLevish was similar to caring for an infant, taking care of her every need and learning her cries and sounds.

They had long days and long nights. Some days were painful and emotional. Others were happy, with McLevish content and alert.

"I wouldn't trade it. She's still here. She's here for a reason. So I'll take every day," Hubbard said. "I wouldn't wish this on anyone, but I can't say I would have it any other way."

They are focused on moving forward. Hubbard recently got nursing care for McLevish and plans to return to work. The nursing care has been a change for her, since she now has help caring for her daughter and her needs, which can start as early as 4?a.m. with feeding and bathing.

And she has been working to get a wheelchair that is stable and comfortable so she can send McLevish back to school. She had just finished her sophomore year when the accident happened last year.

Hubbard talks to her daughter just as she did before the accident, and she sees glimpses that show McLevish is listening. They lay in bed together and watched the Franklin Community High School commencement together online, with Hubbard telling her whom she was seeing walk across the stage, since many of them had been McLevish's friends. After a while, McLevish got annoyed, making noises until her mother got out of the bed. And then, she was fine.

"I still see that stubbornness. She's still my girl," Hubbard said.

She wants McLevish to go back to school so she can have that social interaction, rather than spending her days at home. The two have spent the past year together, with McLevish going where her mother would go, but Hubbard has talked to her and treated her the same as she would have before the accident — pushing her to work hard at therapies and talking to her in the same, no-nonsense way she always has.

"If I babied her, it wouldn't be what she was used to," she said.

And she wants her peers to see her again.

"So many kids knew them, it's good for them, too," she said.

The support from the community since the accident has been unbelievable and has been a huge help to the family, Hubbard said. But she also sees the hesitancy on people's faces about whether to approach the family when they are out. Hubbard wants them to know they can and should come say hi.

"You can talk to us. We're real people like everyone else," she said.

Source: (Franklin) Daily Journal, http://bit.ly/1FMaK6z

Information from: Daily Journal, http://www.dailyjournal.net

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