The university is making some adjustments on campus to help several students involved in the Nov. 4 shuttle bus accident complete their semester.
Two of those injured in the wreck remain in the hospital, but the rest have been released and are either at home or are reintegrating into campus life. Several suffer severe injuries that limit mobility and are learning to adjust accordingly.
Merissa Ford, junior agribusiness major from Maple Valley, Wash., spent nearly a week in Hendrick Medical Center after the accident and said recovery will take some time.
“You never think that something like a car accident or especially a rollover, will ever happen to you,” Ford said. “And now is the hard part – it’s when we’re healing and dealing with the frustrations.”
Ford suffers from several broken and fractured bones after being ejected during the bus accident. She expects her injured vertebrae to take six to ten weeks to recover.
Anna Watson, sophomore animal science major from Kerrville, obtained injuries that create limitations as well. She underwent two surgeries while in the hospital.
Watson returned to her home in Kerrville last week after being released from the hospital Wednesday. She is unable to sit, walk and write well but is able to type and plans to do as much school work as possible that way.
Members of the Student Life team, the provost office and Ed Brokaw, chair of the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, met Tuesday to work out plans for all of the students involved in the accident.
“We want to work very closely with them in their unique needs and get them through the semester as successfully as possible,” said Dr. Jean-Noel Thompson, vice president for Student Life and dean of students.
For some students, this may require moving classes from top stories to the bottom floor, utilizing golf carts to assist students to class and giving additional help to those now in wheelchairs, Thompson said.
“The school is hiring people to push us handicapped people around,” Ford said. “They’re also letting us Skype in to classes we can’t get to and offering to let us have an extended semester where we can take some of our work home and finish it up.”
Thompson said each student has been assigned a staff or faculty member that regularly checks in on their statuses.
“I’m impressed with the level of coordination surrounding this; the care team is meeting a couple times a week to make sure there’s no holes in the system,” Thompson said. “We are doing all we can as a university to cater to their special needs.”
Both Watson and Ford said they were ready to get back to class. Ford was one of the first to return to class, and Tuesday was her first full day back. Watson will remain at home for the time being.
Watson and Ford said healing has been difficult. They said it was an adjustment for them to learn to rely so heavily on others for help.
“I’m a very independent person, and I’m frustrated with the limitations. If I drop something on the ground, then I can’t just reach down and pick it up without pain,” Ford said.
Ford and some other students in the accident are now adjusting to daily life in a wheelchair.
“I’m really learning what it means to be handicapped. I’ve noticed that, when you’re in a wheelchair, people don’t look at you. Someone could be talking to my mother right beside me and not even talk to me at all,” Ford said. “But we’re people, too.”
Watson said that she has learned to better accept help from others.
“I have pity parties. I hate depending on others, but it’s good that the Lord is teaching me to depend on others and not to be so stubbornly independent,” Watson said. “We’re raised in a culture where you are what you produce and what you can do, and we’re raised to be so independent, but sometimes we need to realize that we need a helping hand.”
During their time in the hospital, both Watson and Ford had the opportunity to witness to nurses and others around them.
“Before, I didn’t know how to witness to people, and I didn’t think I had a testimony. I asked the Lord to mold me like clay and give me a testimony and bond me to my department,” Watson said. “So basically I gave Him free reign in my life.”
Watson said she thinks she will be a lot stronger emotionally knowing she can stand something like an accident and knowing that there are people there to help her.
“I feel like this whole event is a box wrapped up in a lot of blessings,” Watson said. “It was meant for harm, but God used it for good.”