Manoa woman keeps looking ahead 10 years after critical injuries from falling tree

Manoa woman keeps looking ahead ten years after critical injuries from falling tree
Debbie White
Debbie White
Dr. Donna Mah
Dr. Donna Mah

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - This coming Sunday will mark 10 years since Julia Engle's life changed. But she changed it for the better, and she says she did it to prove the doctors wrong.

Engle danced hula when she was 12. She's now a 22-year-old gymnast.

"You don't have to care about anything else. Just you and whatever you're going -- whatever more you're going to do," she says.

Engle is also in her final undergraduate semester at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She's about to get her degree in communications and then she'll head to graduate school.

That's nothing short of a miracle, according to the doctors who treated her brain damage ten years ago, when a 75-foot tall Cooke pine tree crashed into her bedroom in Manoa as she slept. She spent weeks in a coma and then underwent several surgeries.

All these years later, Engle hasn't completely gotten over what she calls "the incident."

"Not yet. Almost there," she says.

But she's beaten the odds, and then some, according to her pediatrician and gymnastics coach.

"To have that much insult to essentially half of her brain, and to be normal and getting into graduate school is really, really remarkable," said Dr. Donna Mah.

During her recovery, Engle was a cheerleader from middle school through high school, and graduated from Waldorf Academy.

Tumbling and twirling for hours every week is actually therapy for delayed endolymphatic hydrops, a condition related to her injuries that causes occasional vertigo and deafness.

"Several years after the incident, everything just started sounding like it was blowing up, or I was absolutely deaf. I could see you speaking to me. I know you're talking to me. What are you saying?"

Engle is also watching her diet and taking medication to control the condition. She's also looking for part-time work as she heads to graduate school.

"She has the perseverance. She doesn't give up," says her mom, Debbie White. "Her motto is 'I can do it.' And she just doesn't ever give up.

For Engle, not giving up is not looking back.

"I just want to forget the past, look at the present and plan for my near future, or definitely long term future.

Even though she did prove them wrong, Engle says she's grateful to her doctors for everything they've done for her.

"I accomplished one mission. Just blend in."

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