Published on June 29, 2017

Home Runs for Life: Jenna Preston’s Road To Recovery

In a matter of seconds, Jenna Preston of Taylor Ridge, Ill., was transformed from a college student having fun with her friends to being in a battle for her life.

On March 24, Jenna, a student in agriculture and communications and marketing at University of Wisconsin-Platteville, fell down a flight of narrow steps in a house. There were eight stairs.  She may not have touched any of them with her head on the way down, but landed in the stairwell on her head.

She was very fortunate to be surrounded by people who understood how serious the injury was.  Within minutes she was at a hospital in Platteville and a helicopter was soon transferring her to the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in Madison.

In the first call Jenna’s parents, Brian and Kelly, received from the hospital in Platteville, they could hear the helicopter approaching in the background.

“The first doctor we talked to in Platteville basically said, ‘she has a bump on the head’ and he said, ‘I have seen much worse,’’’ Brian said. “We didn’t know what to think.

’’Got to go, they are here,’’ the doctor said of the helicopter.

Jenna was very fortunate.  She was taken to a highly regarded academic center, where within hours of the fall she had had part of her skull removed to relieve pressure on the brain.  The portion removed during the craniectomy was stored to be replaced later.

The Prestons made a middle-of-the-night trip to Madison.

Life-Threatening Brain Injury

The surgery had gone well but Jenna’s condition was life-threatening.  She was in an induced coma. She was on a ventilator. She was paralyzed temporarily on the right side. Jenna’s condition was a shock to her parents.

“The first time we saw the surgeon in Madison he was very straight forward. He said ‘your daughter could die from this injury,’’’ recalled Jenna’s father, Brian.  “I know they have to tell you the worst that can happen. He was so blunt.

“He also said that if she survived, a fall like this could take a year to recover from.’’

There were setbacks.  The doctors weren’t certain she wouldn’t be permanently paralyzed on her right side. The injury was on the left side of her brain.

“The doctor would ask her to move her toes or legs and he couldn’t see any movement.  He would say and write in records he didn’t detect any movement.  But if we asked her, she would move,’’ Brian said. “I was telling them, ‘you just aren’t seeing it but she can do it.’’’

Jenna was semi-comatose when the Prestons talked with their son, Jared, about his upcoming wedding. Jenna was going to be a bridesmaid in the wedding.

'“You know that Jenna may have to be in a wheel chair. She may not be able to walk down the aisle.’’’ Brian said, recalling the conversation.

The story was about to change and the recovery was about to begin.

“She said, ‘No!’’’

No to paralysis, no to a year of recovery, no to not being able to communicate, no to not being able to fully participate in her brother’s wedding, no to not being able to return to the college and her friends.  No to it all.

And a big ‘yes’ to recovery.

Attitude was one of the things Jenna had going for her.  She wanted her life back.

A LIFT Toward Recovery

Every weekday from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Jenna participates in the LIFT (Learning Independence for Tomorrow) Program at Genesis Physical Therapy, Devils Glen, Bettendorf. The program is the only program of its kind in the region to offer such a comprehensive list of clinical services on an outpatient basis.

These days, Jenna works most often with speech therapist and program manager Lori Dryg.  Jenna also has worked with a therapeutic recreation specialist, physical therapist and occupational therapist.  The team concept is one of the unique aspects of the program.

Jenna is regaining her speech and writing skills, she regained her mobility and is able to exercise.  She was also able to have her follow-up surgery locally from Quad Cities neurosurgeon Srinivasan S. Purighalla, MD.  The Prestons wanted the follow-up surgery to be done locally and discovered that the portion of the skull removed from Jenna could not be legally transported out of state.

Purighalla instead used a mesh screen made of titanium and molded it to Jenna’s skull in a surgery in Rock Island.

Jenna now has little goals and major goals.  Two of major goals are driving again – she already has clearance, except from her parents – and returning to Wisconsin-Platteville for her senior year this fall. She is a senior studying agricultural business with an emphasis on communications and marketing and a minor in dairy science.

Attitude Makes Difference

Lori Dryg said she is working with Jenna and communicating with the university to prepare for a fall return to Platteville.  One of the roles of the LIFT program is to assist clients to transition back to their lives and routine.

“I love Platteville. I love the programs I’m in. There is no way I’m not going back there,’’ Jenna said.

“Anyone who doubts her doesn’t know her,’’ Brian Preston said.

In some ways, out of near-tragedy, good has come.  The Prestons pray more and are more appreciative of life.

“Everyone told us we wouldn’t be at this point today.  But Jenna is young, she has attitude and that is how she has come back,’’ Brian said.  “We feel blessed. LIFT has done wonders for Jenna.’’

That attitude has made a difference in Jenna’s recovery, according to Dryg.

“She has come so far. Her biggest attribute toward her recovery has been attitude. She will do anything we ask,’’ Dryg said.

“Even the math,’’ Jenna added.

“…And the math,’’ Lori laughed.

The Quad Cities River Bandits will recognize Jenna's recovery on July 7 as part of the Home Runs for Life promotion.

For more information about the Genesis LIFT program and its benefits call Genesis Physical Therapy and Wellness at (563) 421-3460 or go to www.genesishealth.com/rehabilitation.
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