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Stage collapse victim makes 'miracle' comeback

Associated Press Modified: November 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm •  Published: November 24, 2012

"The first person they came to was deceased and then they found Andrea. They got oxygen to her and then he literally chased down an ambulance, banged on the door and even though they already had a patient loaded, he convinced them to take Andrea because she was so bad. They rode with her to the hospital and definitely helped save her life."

As Andrea headed to surgery, medical staffers removed her wedding ring and handed it to Mike.

"He kept it in his pocket every day after that," Sandi said. "And then one day when Andrea still was only semi-conscious he pressed the ring into her right hand. And even though she couldn't really respond, she slowly worked that ring around in her hand and somehow managed to get it on the ring finger of her left hand, which she couldn't move.

"And you know, I saw that's the same thing (Congresswoman) Gabby Giffords did with her husband's ring after she'd been hurt . That tells you about love."

Mike said that first night in the hospital he was approached about enrolling his wife in a cutting-edge experimental trial that uses the pregnancy hormone progesterone to reduce swelling and improve the memory of those with traumatic brain injuries.

He agreed, and although they still don't know if she received the drug or a placebo, they think she got the hormone because Andrea's progress in many areas has been remarkable.

Along the way, she's also had a wave of people praying for her, providing support and holding fund raisers. No place showed its colors more than Pendleton, which was decorated for months with pink ribbons (Andrea's favorite color) and had large "For the Love of Andrea" banners draped across State Street, the main drag through the historic downtown.

"I had to learn how to walk, talk, eat, speak — pretty much everything again," Andrea said. "I've certainly improved, but I still have a way to go."

Surgeons have had a problem getting the plastic flap affixed to the right side of her skull. They've tried twice in the past year and each time an infection developed. She said doctors figured part of the problem is that her scalp has shrunk, so they've temporarily inserted saline-inflated expanders to stretch it back out.

There's also the challenge of her left arm. "She can move it, she just can't control it," Sandi said. "It's not paralyzed, but the right side of her brain was injured and that controls the left side of the body. But they're working on it."

Andrea nodded in agreement. "TBI's affect you in so many different ways. Some of it bothers me. I don't like being so dependent on people. I've gotten kind of negative and I never was like that before. And so for a while here, I kind of lost my initiative and didn't want to get off the couch. That's why I'm going to a personal trainer now three times a week."

And next year when her insurance kicks back in — she hit the pay-out limits this year — she'll be able to get more rehab.

In the meantime she said she deals with challenges as they come:

"My long-term memory is good, but my short term is really bad. And sometimes I just can't explain what I do."

And that brought a smile: "I never used to like ketchup, but then I went through a stage where I'd take everything — a peach, anything I was eating — and dip it in ketchup. Now I've gotten through that, but there still are little things.

"One time I was folding all of Lydia's clothes and I brought something out — a polka dot shirt — and I said, 'Sweetie, is this a pajama or a T-shirt?' She grabbed it from me and said, 'Mom!' and threw it in her pajama drawer.

"I said, 'Sweetie, that's the kind of stuff I forget.' I had no idea what I was looking at. But Lydia understands that now and she's become like my little mini-doctor. Even though she doesn't know what time it is, she'll go, 'Mom, time for your 8 o'clock meds.'

"She'll hold each pill and want to put it in my mouth. It's so cute. She just wants to help her mom get better."

A big step for Andrea was Mandy's wedding last month to Jeremy "Mo" Mihm in St. Henry, Ohio.

One of the bridesmaids, she walked down the aisle wearing a stylish black covering that — thanks to a friend's mom who made it — not only fit her helmet, but matched the black dress she wore. Best of all she was surrounded by her former Raider teammates and coaches.

And yet she said she was caught off-guard when Mandy and Mo exchanged vows:

"It got a little emotional for me. When I heard them say, 'I promise to be there for you in good days and bad' . I just started crying. When Mike and I got married, you think it's all gonna be good days. You don't think about the other, but obviously Mike and I have had some bad ones through all this."

That's when Sandi injected a positive note: "But Mike has taken good care of her."

Andrea nodded: "I know I'm lucky to even have some bad days along the way. I'm blessed just to be alive.

"My friend who got me the tickets told me she keeps asking herself, 'Why Andrea? Why did it happen to her?' And you know I've asked myself that same question many times. But then one day she said, 'I finally think I understand. I think it happened to you because God knew you could emotionally make it through it. A lot of people couldn't.'

"Her saying that meant a lot to me. It made me think that being so close to those people who died, God saved me for a reason and I've got to make the most of it now."

And she's trying.

On her birthday last May she walked an entire 5K race held in her honor. This fall she helped coach the Pendleton High volleyball team and last Friday night Dave Shondell, her old Munciana coach who's now the head coach at Purdue, had her address his Boilermakers before they played Ohio State.

She and Mike even went to an outdoor concert again this year.

And she's also regained some of her sense of humor.

"I thought my April Fools' Day joke was pretty good," she said. "I called my mom and told her I was pregnant. . But she didn't find it funny at all."

Sandi shook her head: "Actually, she left me a phone message about being pregnant. I was shocked. It didn't occur to me it was April Fools', so I believed her. I called her up and said, 'Oh, no! You can't be,' but she insisted, 'I am. I am.'... And that's a sign she's getting back to her old self more and more."

Andrea wants to be able to drive again and run — she had done several races over the years — and she hopes to play sand volleyball again.

And she said she does want to have another child:

"Maybe next April Fools' Day I'll be able to call Mom and it won't be a joke."

Hearing that, Sandi just smiled: "Now that would be something."

As Thanksgiving stories go, it would make an already good one even better.


Information from: Dayton Daily News: