About 30 miles outside of Missoula, Mont., Shaela Mamuzich, 17 years old, was driving with her brother, Dakota, when the worst happened. They were in a car accident with an ambulance. Dakota, a paramedic with a local volunteer fire department, was able to keep Shaela's airway open despite his own fractured skull and other injuries.
"The responders on the ambulance didn't realize he was also in the wreck until they saw blood running down his face," says Julie, mother of Shaela and Dakota. "He kept her alive."
Shaela's injuries were extensive, Julie says, and largely affecting her brain. She was taken to nearby Providence St. Patrick Hospital where her outlook was grim. "They said she could die," Julie says. "Each day we just waited and watched how she responded. They kept saying she had positive movements."
"St. Pat's is just awesome," Julie says. "I've expressed to them how great they were with Shaela and how fabulous they were--everything they did to keep her alive. They explained everything to us so we felt comfortable."
After two weeks in St. Patrick's intensive care and brain injury unit, Shaela was transferred to St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute for specialized pediatric care for Shaela's traumatic brain injury (TBI). "When she was moved to St. Luke's, she wasn't walking, talking or doing much of anything at all," Julie says.
That soon changed as Shaela began therapy sessions spanning the care continuum: physical, occupational, recreational and speech-language therapies.
"Walking was really quick for Shaela," Julie says of how Shaela's outlook changed once in therapy. "Therapists had her take her own shower right away. The next day, she started walking. From thereon, she started walking but wasn't talking. It took her a while to talk."
Julie was able to room-in with Shaela during her month-long inpatient stay at St. Luke's. As Shaela continued to make progress with her TBI, shared celebrations happened between the family and staff.
"Shaela said her first word while I was combing her hair," Julie says of the word she can barely repeat. "I remember running down the hallway--her nurse asked 'what was it?' I said it was the f word!"
During Shaela's rehabilitation at St. Luke's, the recreational therapy team learned of her passion for horses. "She barrel raced before this happened," Julie says. "Her therapists arranged for her to visit with
Free Rein Therapeutic Riding
; she was so excited to be around the horses."
"I can't even express my feeling about just how wonderful St. Luke's staff is," Julie says. "I tell anyone who has a teenager or child, St. Luke's is where to take them."
Shaela's mom says she's improving every day, working part-time at her outpatient physical therapy office, playing basketball and enjoying her senior year of high school.
"Before the accident she was a bit more shy and quiet, Julie says. "Shaela's happy and now talks all the time. We're determined to help her do all she wants to do from here."
For more about St. Luke's Brain Injury Program, please visit