By Marci Narum
Editor’s Note: From the time we learned that Shayna was willing to share her story with you here, Jody and I wanted to be sensitive and caring to the families and friends of Abby and Taylor, and we reached out to make them aware that this story would be published. Both families are in our prayers.
Shayna Monson’s face beams as Inspired Woman magazine photographer Jacy Voglewede moves in for her close up. Shayna is especially happy when Jacy asks Shayna if she wants a few pictures taken without her glasses.
“I love my eyes,” Shayna says. “My favorite color is blue because of my eyes.”
Shayna’s mom, Connie, stands in the living room of their home in Dickinson watching the photo shoot, and she is also beaming—with gratitude, but most of all, hope. One year ago, her daughter wasn’t expected to come home. In the early morning hours of June 27, 2015, doctors told Connie there was very little hope. Shayna wasn’t going to open her eyes. Her beautiful blue eyes.
The reason was a tragic early morning car crash. A man driving drunk had collided head-on with the car Shayna was driving. Two passengers, Taylor Goven of Mandan, and Abby Renschler of Lincoln, died in the crash. Shayna had suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and was in a coma. Dozens of Shayna’s friends and family gathered at the hospital in Bismarck, expecting to say goodbye.
“When the accident happened we were given such dire news,” says Connie Monson. “Basically we were given no hope. We were told she most likely would not live through the first 48 hours, and if she would live, she would be a vegetable for the rest of her life. She would be blind. Her right side would most likely be paralyzed.”
But Shayna Monson proved the doctors wrong. Five days after the accident, she opened her eyes.
One year after the accident, Shayna has her vision, can walk independently, and since coming home in April from Quality Living, Inc. in Omaha, Nebraska, Shayna can write sentences—with her right hand.
Shayna continues to surprise medical professionals as she recovers and gains strength more quickly than anyone expected. She smiles, lifts her right hand, and gives a ‘thumbs up’ as Connie explains that her daughter was told she would probably never walk, nor talk. No one thought she would have recovered this much, one year after such a grim outlook.
“Her recovery is so much further than what anybody expected it to be at this point,” says Connie. “And they tell us the two-year mark will give us a better idea of what to expect. And between the two- and five-year marks she will still continue to recover but not as quickly as she does in the first two years.”
“It’s awesome that I’m home. And it’s awesome that I’m doing okay with therapy,” says Shayna. “And I’m starting to move forward pretty quickly now. With some time and motivation, I’m doing pretty well now.”
Shayna’s motivation to recover is not typical, according to her speech therapist, Jean Herauf, Area Manager of
Rehab Visions in Dickinson.
“TBI patients often lose some of that motivation. They lose some cognitive function,” Herauf says. “Nine out of ten people after having this type of injury lose complete motivation.”
Shayna is gaining momentum, though, despite an exhausting therapy schedule at Rehab Visions. She has Occupational and Physical Therapy each three days a week. Shayna began Speech Therapy five times a week, but because of continued improvement, her sessions are now four days a week. As hard as Shayna is tested in her therapy sessions, so is her therapy team.
“She is amazing,” says Herauf. “It’s a challenge to keep up with her. I keep trying to come up with things to challenge her and she blows right past me. She is especially strong in math. I’m extremely impressed with her positive attitude because she has every reason to not be. She is so motivated and so thankful. She says ‘thank you,’ frequently during her therapy sessions.”
Occupational therapist, Katie Rummel says, “She’s incredible, very inspiring. Definitely one of the most motivated, hard-working people I know. Every single day I try something new with her and every single day she pushes me to find something different for her to do because she catches on so quickly.”
But that’s nothing new to her friends. Kathryn Kester attended the University of North Dakota with Shayna, and says she worked harder than anyone else.
Kathryn says, “If we were going out to do something, Shayna would say, ‘I’m studying, but hopefully I’ll make it.’ She dedicated so much time to school. She wanted to go to med school.”
Shayna says she is looking forward to going back to college soon. She was a 4.0 pre-med student when the accident happened. Her goal was always to become an anesthesiologist. She carries her college backpack—adorned with black sequins—to her daily therapy sessions. And Shayna was back on campus this spring to see her friends graduate from UND. Most of them were pre-med students, too.
The graduation ceremony was bitter sweet for Shayna. Had it not been for the accident, she would have received her diploma with them. And although her friends moved on with their lives, they didn’t move on without Shayna.
“She had friends visit her in Denver at Craig Hospital,” says Connie. “Three of her friends from college spent their spring break visiting her in Omaha. I was very touched by that. They’re seniors in college, they could have gone anywhere and done anything for their final spring break, but they chose to spend their time with Shayna.
“She is really moving ahead,” says Connie. “She is moving into the future. She’s leaving that past behind her. And she’s doing it with her friends by her side.”
Right after the accident, one of Shayna’s friends gave Connie the devotional book, Jesus Calling. Connie and Shayna read it every morning while having breakfast together. Connie has clung to one particular verse since Shayna’s accident:
“For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not harm you. Plans to give you hope, and a future.” –Jeremiah 29:11.
“I have really hung onto that, that God is giving us hope for a future. And that he has a plan for her.”
Connie also shares this from her Jesus Calling evening prayer book. It’s the devotion for June 27th, the day of the accident:
“Your current situation may feel like a gigantic mistake to you. Something you should have been able to prevent. I urge you not to indulge in obsessing in what you could have done differently, for that is an exercise in unreality. The past cannot be different from what has actually occurred. I want to help you make a new beginning instead, starting right where you are.”
“Those are some pretty powerful words for that day,” Connie says. “And I go back and I read that often. It’s really been a comfort for me to read those words.
“I’ve always believed in God, I’ve had a faith, but it’s become a lot stronger. Just knowing Shayna survived, I knew
immediately, there’s a purpose that she survived. That there’s a plan for her. I have held onto that belief and I know, I definitely know that there is a future for her.”
Connie says through this experience, Shayna has never complained, nor become frustrated. She says her daughter wants to inspire others to keep fighting, get stronger, and never give up.
“She has kept her faith through all of this,” says Connie. “If that’s the purpose, we may never know. I truly believe that one of the purposes of this is to motivate other people and inspire them, to show them they can overcome the odds and don’t give up.”
And with a sparkle in those pretty blue eyes of hers, Shayna smiles and says, “I’m never going to give up. I’m going to keep fighting to the end of my life. I am driven. I always have hope.”
Jacy Vogelwede, of Photos by Jacy, has put together a gallery of photos she took of Shayna, her therapy, and Shayna with her mom, Connie. Click here to see that gallery.