Tonganoxie Shadoe Barton has a new outlook on life.
The Kansas University student was critically injured Feb. 23 during a car accident on U.S. Highway 24-40 near Reno. After the accident, she spent about six weeks in intensive care and a month at a rehabilitation hospital.
She returned earlier this month to live at her parents' Tonganoxie home to continue her recovery.
"The little conveniences that we have, like just walking and being able to put on your socks and tie your shoes - things like that - (those are) things that are challenging for me now that I never thought about before," Shadoe said last week.
And she has a new understanding of what it takes to show determination.
"You definitely have to just tell yourself that you just have to do it," Shadoe said. "I had no other choice except to get better. Not being able to walk or use my arms the rest of my life - that wasn't an option for me."
Her first words
Shadoe Barton woke up in the ICU on April 2, her great-grandmother's 84th birthday.
Shadoe said she remembers thinking that, at 84, her great-grandmother was ancient. And when Shadoe's sister joined them, Shadoe eagerly relayed that message to her sister.
"That's the first thing I remember," Shadoe said with a grin, shaking her head as she recalled the moment.
More about Barton
For Shadoe, her thought - and the ability to convey it - was a landmark. It was her first conversation in more than six weeks.
Shadoe, a Kansas University freshman majoring in women's studies, always had been articulate, said her mother, Twen Barton. But injuries sustained in the car accident led to mini-strokes in her brain.
That April 2 conversation gave hope that the former high school debater and actor would return to her former self.
Since then, the 2005 Tonganoxie High School graduate has made amazing strides, her mother said.
On a recent afternoon, Shadoe walked along a downtown Tonganoxie sidewalk, steadying herself with a walker.
Her every move is gentle now - cautious as she backs toward a chair and reaches for the arms to steady herself, or careful as she sinks into the front seat of her mother's car.
Her days are starting to get busier. Along with doctor appointments, there are trips to Lawrence for physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.
"Every day I had to walk around. I knew I had to do more than I did yesterday and that : if I don't, I'm not going to progress; I'm going to be stagnant for the rest of my life," Shadoe said, pausing as she briefly closed her eyes. "I'm not going to do that."
There is still pain from the injuries she suffered in the wreck. Bruises still line her left arm. But Shadoe isn't complaining.
"I feel great," Shadoe said. "As compared to how I was doing, I'm feeling so much better. It's still challenging, but if it was easy then, there wouldn't be any point."
She's happy to be regaining her language skills.
"I started out reading single words when I was in my speech therapy and just doing tiny sentences," Shadoe said. "I've come a long way."
This is progress that her family members wondered whether they ever would see. In the weeks after the accident, Shadoe's prognosis was grim, her mother said.
"To be very honest, we didn't expect Shadoe to be the same person that she used to be and is now," Twen said. "We expected her to be different somehow, whether it be her personality or cognitive."
During the critical weeks in the hospital, Twen said, family members thoughtfully worded their prayers.
"That was probably our biggest fear - that she would live but wouldn't have a good quality of life," Twen said. "So we were very careful in how we prayed. We didn't pray for Shadoe to live - we didn't want to be selfish - we just wanted what was in her best interest."
And now it appears a life lived fully is in Shadoe's future. Shadoe said she plans, as soon as she's able, to return to classes at KU.
Sense of humor
Along with seeing her walking and talking, Shadoe's family is glad to again enjoy her dry sense of humor.
"I think her sense of humor will, I hope, get her through this," Twen said.
Though Shadoe uses a walker now, she's hoping within a month to progress to using a cane and then to no assistance.
"I know that I'm doing so much better," Shadoe said. "It's only a matter of time because I'm already getting out and doing things by myself, getting more and more normal."
That's not something her doctors would have predicted in February.
Last week, Twen took Shadoe to a medical appointment.
"The first doctor that came in, he was smiling and he told Shadoe, 'I never expected to come in and see you walking and talking the way you are,'" Twen said.
Twen knows what he meant.
She gazed at her daughter, smiling, and said: "She's our miracle child."