Photo: Samantha Garcia was crowned 2012 KHS Homecoming Queen at the varsity football game on Oct. 12. Photo by Patti Wilk
KHS senior works her way back to normal after car accident
by Susan O’Neill
KANELAND—Something told Lisa DeFranze to turn around and go back home that night.
It was July 1, and she and her daughter, Samantha Garcia, had gone their separate ways that evening. Garcia, soon to become a senior at Kaneland High School, drove off in the opposite direction.
When DeFranze arrived back at home, she saw the police officers at her neighbor’s house. Samantha had been in a car accident and was in serious condition.
Sam’s car had gone off the road at the intersection of Route 30 and 47, rolling over six or seven times before she was ejected from the vehicle. She was taken to Rush-Copley and then air-lifted to Loyola Medical Center.
Samantha’s condition was very much touch and go that night. She had suffered severe head trauma, and the doctors had to insert a tube in her head to drain the build-up of fluid. She had fractured ribs, her right arm was crushed, and she had multiple pelvic fractures.
The doctor told DeFranze that Samantha would never walk or feed herself again.
But Samantha was 17 years old and otherwise healthy. Before the accident, she worked out a lot at the Vaughan Athletic Center, and she played third base on her high school softball team. She is also a very determined young lady.
DeFranze said the family decided to listen to Samantha’s neurosurgeon, who said kids are resilient, and everybody’s different.
Sam spent the first two weeks in the intensive care unit and two additional weeks in the hospital before transferring to Marionjoy Rehabilitation Center for two months of intensive rehab.
Less than four months later, Samantha is walking with assistance, her speech is coming back and she still has her sense of humor. Recently, she got dressed up and went to the KHS Homecoming dance for an hour, where she was chosen Homecoming Queen.
“It was overwhelming,” she said. “I felt normal again.”
Samantha is doing her exercises every day, and she began working with a tutor this week. She said she is looking forward to playing softball and running again, and can’t wait to go back to school.
Samantha’s friends text her and come over to visit. They also organized a fundraising benefit for Samantha in September at the AmVets Post No. 106 in Aurora. About 350 people showed up. Her friend Baylee Lancaster said the fundraiser featured a bags tournament, a silent auction and 50/50 raffles, and they made T-shirts and bracelets to commemorate the benefit. They raised $22,000 to help Samantha’s family with her medical expenses.
The arm that was injured is her softball-throwing arm, so getting her strength back there is important to her. For now, she is just working on the basics, with speech, physical and occupational therapy.
DeFranze said Samantha just became weight-bearing as of last week. Her speech is also getting better, but her voice is soft.
“She gets very fatigued,” DeFranze said.
Several months before the accident, Sam got a tattoo on the top of her foot.
The butterfly was to remember her grandmother; perhaps the message was for Samantha, too. It says, “This, too, shall pass.”
Samantha will go back to school in January, and she expects to graduate with her class. DeFranze said that Samantha is impatient and wants so much to get back to normal again.
“She’s come a far way,” DeFranze said. “She doesn’t realize how far.”