Wreck victim makes her own history with run|[03/04/07]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 4, 2007

Twenty-six-year-old Megan Cook is walking – and that may be a miracle.

Two years ago, doctors told her parents, Jim and Naomi Cook, that she may not survive the brain injury she received in a wreck that flipped her car and crashed her head into pavement three times.

Today, Cook has surpassed expectations. And, when she rounded the curve to finish the 5K walk at the Run Thru History Saturday morning, she was sporting a smile that showed her determination.

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&#8220She’s just a miracle,” said family friend and retired therapist Carol Bonelli. &#8220I’ve never heard one negative word come out of her mouth. It’s always a smile, and she’s always positive.”

The limited movement she has on her right side caused by swelling on the left side of her brain didn’t stop her from beating her own time of 55 minutes and 40 seconds. It was the most she’s walked since her accident.

&#8220She has progressed by leaps and bounds,” said Beth Magee, an occupational therapist with Premiere Physical Therapy of River Region Medical Center and one of four therapists who walked together Saturday.

&#8220I was pumped up,” Cook said after.

Cook, a 1999 graduate of St. Aloysius High School, was headed home for Easter when she had the wreck on Mississippi 18 near Brandon. She lost control of her vehicle, causing it to flip three times. Just before the car burst into flames, an unidentified person removed her from the car by cutting away her seat, her father said.

She was 24, about to begin clinicals for the Florida Institute of Ultrasound in Pensacola. Two years earlier, she had graduated from Ole Miss with majors in art and journalism.

Since the wreck, she has had seven surgeries, five on her brain – one to remove a piece of her skull in order to relieve pressure, two to add or remove shunts to help with drainage and two to replace portions of her skull – all in less than two years. The other two surgeries were to assist with her breathing.

Her mother can’t believe how far she has come.

&#8220I remember sitting while Megan was having her brain surgery. And, the doctor said, ‘I’ve done all I can do,’” Naomi Cook said, pushing back tears.

Megan Cook called off her mother’s tears, and Naomi Cook continued… &#8220Then to see him with her now – he’s so proud of her. He just scratches his head.”

In the beginning, Megan Cook couldn’t walk or talk. Her injury has affected her cognitive skills, meaning she has had trouble with names, colors, counting money, letters and numbers.

But she has graduated from a wheelchair to a leg brace that she wears 80 percent of the time, she is also re-learning those things her brain has forgotten.

&#8220We’ve had to work on what she learned the first 12 years of her life,” Naomi Cook said. &#8220The things we take for granted, she just can’t do.”

But, Cook doesn’t focus on what she can’t do. The road to recovery is her job now. She starts each day by waking up around 5. Then she lifts weights, does Pilates and all types of therapy and even goes to &#8220school” at Beechwood Elementary to work on programs, such as Fast Forward, a computer program designed to facilitate speech and language development rapidly. As part of her therapy, she has begun painting like she did in college. Her newest piece, one of her dog, Mack, will be entered in Art of Recovery: The Joely Corban’s Brain Injury Awareness Project, and will be on display at the Mississippi State Capitol Rotunda throughout March, which is brain injury awareness month.

&#8220She has to completely relearn everything,” Naomi Cook said.

At home, in her dining room-turned-classroom, where get well cards continue to hang on a china cabinet, Cook uses a SaeboFlex, a gadget that helps her move her right arm, which she’s hoping will teach her brain to tell her arm to pinch and squeeze. Being able to touch her nose by squeezing a foam ball with her right hand is one of those &#8220tiny successes” her mom said they celebrate each day.

&#8220We are truly at God’s mercy every single day. He’s healing her one part at a time – slowly and perfectly,” she said.

Megan Cook’s positive attitude has been almost as shocking for people as her unexpected progress.

&#8220I don’t get it. I don’t understand that part of it,” her mother said. &#8220She’s so positive. It’s heart-warming to see her passion for life and her passion to give back.”

For Cook, though, it’s just life, and, like her walks in the military park, it’s being taken one step at a time.

&#8220We used to walk in the park arm-in-arm, and we would move from monument to monument,” Naomi Cook said. &#8220I’d say, OK, one more. But, there was a time when getting from the parking lot to the picnic bench was all she could do.”

A lot of what has helped Cook make it through are her friends.

&#8220The true heroes were her friends who were at the hospital 24/7,” she said.

And, then there are the 100 people in the community who created a volunteer task force to help with Cook’s recovery.

Cook’s journey is far from over and, while she may not know what the future holds, she is sailing ahead.

&#8220I want to get better and do more of the things that I used to do,” she said. &#8220If I can’t do them, that’s fine. But, I still want to try.”