Eden Welply died for 11 minutes in February.
Her heart stopped on the operating table at a hospital in Kyle after she was hit by a car while heading to class on foot at Texas State University in San Marcos, where she was studying art history and women’s studies.
The 24-year-old somehow retained consciousness during the accident that caused two collapsed lungs, a broken pelvis, a broken hip and three broken vertebrae. On her face, she broke both eye sockets and cheekbones, and her nose was broken in three places.
She had two surgeries that day, and doctors and nurses revived her after the clinical death, but for the next three weeks, they didn’t think she would survive, she says.
She was on a ventilator for a month and a half.
No one told her, of course, that they didn’t think she’d make it to her 25th birthday in October, but last month, after eight months in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation centers, she found out just how grim things looked when she saw her neurosurgeon for the first time.
"When he saw me, he was beside himself," she says. "I’ve never seen a doctor like that."
She can’t walk or use her hands, but Welply has recovered her ability to move her shoulders and her arms. "He said, ‘You shouldn’t be shrugging your shoulders, let alone leaning forward,’" she says. She was told her case has redefined what an incomplete spinal cord recovery can look like.
Less than a year ago, Welply was a singer-songwriter who worked as a barista at Radio Coffee & Beer to pay for her college education. She was scheduled to play three shows in Marfa the week after the accident and was recording music up until the night before.
After leaving the first round of hospitals and rehab centers, Welply was home for about two months, and that’s when more than a dozen friends signed up for a care calendar to catheterize her, help her workout and make and share meals with her.
In October, she returned to TIRR Memorial Hermann, a rehab hospital in Houston.
"As much as I really want to be home, I have a lot of goals, and all of my progress has been in these intensive environments, where you’re engulfed by the situation," she says.
This recent transition to TIRR was difficult. En route to Houston, she started to feel ill. "I was trying not to be sick," she says. "I was never sick before this. People were so excited to have me here."
But instead of settling into a rehab routine, she found herself in the emergency room with a seizure-inducing fever that stemmed from a kidney stone-related infection. She spent 10 days in the hospital and recently had another surgery to remove them.
"There’s been bad things, but I’d never lost consciousness in that way," she says of the recent setback, but her recovery has amazed doctors.
"I wasn’t moving my face at the beginning of this," she says of what it was like those first weeks after the accident. "The fact that I’m moving my arms and that I can lift them up quite a bit and that I can move some of my fingers a little bit more is amazing."
She’s learning about how to develop muscles in her wrist so she can turn on faucets and turn doorknobs. "You wouldn’t think of them as important muscle groups, but those things really help," she says. "This isn’t, like, pull your bootstraps up and let’s keep going. It’s a struggle, and you have to endure it."
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