DANVILLE, Pennsylvania — A schoolteacher severely injured by a rock thrown from the overpass of a Pennsylvania interstate said Tuesday she was looking forward to getting back to her Ohio home and seeing her 12-year-old dog Coco.
Sharon Budd rang a bell outside Geisinger HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Danville to celebrate — with about 60 well-wishers — her pending departure after more than three months of treatment.
Budd, 52, said that when she first began to wake up in the intensive care unit, her first thoughts were disbelief.
"I honestly don't know why it's me," she said. "I found it just kind of strange."
Budd and her husband Randy plan to make the five-hour trip home early Wednesday morning.
She was the front-seat passenger, driving through Pennsylvania the night of July 10 with her husband and college student daughter, when the 4.6-pound rock crashed through the front window and struck her head.
Her skull was crushed, she lost her right eye, suffered brain damage and has endured five surgical procedures to repair the damage. As a cancer survivor, she was dismayed to find herself again in a hospital, without her brown hair.
"At the time I was like, there's no way this could be me again," she said. "Why would I have to go through this two times?"
Her home in Unionville, Ohio, has been prepared for her arrival, with grab bars, alarms, bed rails and repositioned furniture.
Randy Budd said he was looking ahead to "normalcy — whatever normal's like."
Her long-term prognosis remains uncertain.
"They told us to look at this a year from now to give a measurement of how Sharon's going to be, who is Sharon going to be," Randy Budd said.
Dr. Ed Heinle, who treated her in the rehab facility, said when she first arrived she could not communicate and it took a pair of therapists to help her with basic movements.
"Given the extent of injury and level of function, we're thrilled at how much progress we've made," Heinle said.
Chelsea Matukaitis, a physical therapist, said Sharon Budd's personality made her many friends among the staff.
"She lights up every room comes into, for sure," Matukaitis said. "We're going to miss her — it's going to feel very empty around here."
She can perform simple math and knows who the president is and that it's 2014, Randy Budd said. But she can be confused about how many children she has or how she got hurt, he said.
"Some basics, she doesn't have," Randy Budd said. "That's to be expected. The brain has to reconnect itself."
Union County District Attorney Pete Johnson, who is prosecuting the four men in the case, said he was gratified to know the Budds were heading home.
"I'm practically moved to tears for her and her family," Johnson said. "They've been through the worst."
One of the defendants testified at a preliminary hearing in August that they set out to do damage that day, starting with shoplifting and driving through a corn field and ending up on the Interstate 80 overpass shortly before midnight.
Keefer McGee, 18, testified under a deal with prosecutors that they laughed as they drove away from the scene after hearing the noise of the rock hitting the Budd family's vehicle. One of the four told police that the oblong-shaped rock was dropped by Dylan Lahr, 17.
The lawyer for the only defendant who did not waive his preliminary hearing, Brett Lahr, 19, said this week he was glad to hear Sharon Budd was being released but maintains criminal charges should not have been filed against him.
"Just because you're riding along with people who do some stuff, and even alleged to have laughed if it happened, which we dispute, does not mean you should be even tried for a crime," said the defense attorney, Brian Manchester. "You have to have some active involvement."
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