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Recovery from brain trauma leads to a celebration of life and love

After recovering from a severe brain trauma, Dara Wanzer and her now husband gained a new perspective on life and love
by Heather Warlick Published: August 12, 2013

David Wanzer had spent most nights sleeping in a pullout bed in her hospital room. When he couldn't be there, Dara's father would be.

“I thought it was very important for me to be there. I wanted to be there and give her a familiar face,” David Wanzer said. “I wanted to give her the constant support and love to get the best recovery possible.”

Relearning life

Dara Wanzer's fall from that scooter resulted in three severe brain injuries, bleeding and swelling of the brain and a broken collar bone. A large portion of her brain atrophied and died as a result of the pressure and bleeding.

Wanzer needed specialized therapy to help her rebuild the functions of thinking, reasoning and speech in her brain that had been destroyed in the accident.

A few of her advocates pushed to get her admitted to Integris Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation.

There, her physical therapy was intense, with physical and cognitive therapies, major speech therapy, and even classes to relearn daily functions such as cooking and brushing her teeth, she said.

“I basically had to learn how to think again because there is literally a chunk of my brain missing,” she said.

Wanzer was released after about three weeks of intensive therapy at Jim Thorpe and was overjoyed to go home, though her therapists said she still had a long way to go and that she was then functioning at the level of an eight grader. She didn't care — she was ready to go home.

Once home, Wanzer continued her therapy, keeping busy exercising her brain.

“I spent a lot of time doing puzzles and reading, charting those new pathways,” she said.

She also spent a lot of time planning the surprise June wedding, the Wanzers' celebration of life and love.

Coming full circle

That fall, not even a year after her accident, Wanzer went back to OU School of Law to finish her law degree. After graduation, she worked at a few law firms but her gratitude for the health care workers who cared for her had her longing to work in the health care field.

About seven months ago Wanzer came full circle and is now back at Integris — not as a patient this time but as Integris's Human Resources attorney. Her determination to follow her dreams of a law career, to survive and thrive despite her brain trauma, and her strength of spirit are just a few reasons she is receiving a Jim Thorpe Courage Award on Saturday. These days, not surprisingly, “Wear your helmet” is Wanzer's manifesto. She and her husband, now married for eight years, spend every day celebrating life, love and the wondrous human brain.

by Heather Warlick
Life & Style Editor
Since graduating from University of Central Oklahoma with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism, Staff Writer Heather Warlick has written stories for The Oklahoman's Life section. Her beats have included science, health, home and garden, family,...
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