SPECIAL REPORT: Theresa's courageous journey toward recovery

Published: Feb. 24, 2012 at 3:15 AM HST|Updated: Feb. 24, 2012 at 3:57 AM HST
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Theresa Wang
Theresa Wang
David Chen
David Chen

KONA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Former University of Hawaii Warrior quarterback Colt Brennan is taking another stab at playing professional football.  He's in California getting back into shape, after he suffered broken bones and a punctured lung in a car crash on the Big Island 15 months ago.

Meanwhile, the woman who nearly died in that collision embarked on a courageous journey of her own.  Hawaii News Now brings you an inspirational look at Theresa Wang's road to recovery.

November 19, 2010 -- Theresa Wang is driving on Queen Kaahumanu Highway, when an SUV crosses the center line and slams head-on into her car.

The Waikoloa doctor is suddenly the patient in a coma fighting for her life.  Her body shattered -- 22 fractures in all.

"I remember the neurologist was telling me she has four fractures in her neck.  She has a spinal cord injury, a brain stem injury," David Chen, Wang's husband, said.  "We don't know if she's ever going to be able to move anything below her neck...if she survives."

"All right, you tell me when you're ready," Amanda Gelsomino, physical therapist, said.

"Okay, let's go," Wang said.

Many are calling it a miracle.  Theresa woke up, underwent multiple surgeries and grueling physical therapy, and -- at 48 years old -- learned how to walk again.

"A little bit more narrow in the legs," Gelsomino instructed.  "Perfect."

That gritty determination that once got her through medical school is fueling her now.  At the beginning of Theresa's road toward recovery, rehab specialists in Denver quickly discovered that they would have to keep up with her.

"They said, okay, all we're going to do today is we're going to try and get you to stand up and be supported by these two parallel bars," Chen recalled.  "Well, she stood up and then she put her feet one in front of the other, still with two broken legs, and she walked like 10 steps."

Back on the Big Island after nine months away, the self-proclaimed non-athlete has her competitive juices flowing.

"Almost, almost," Gelsomino said during the next exercise.

"Oh, no," Wang said.

In a Wii game that tests her balance, Theresa leans forward, backward and side to side to guide the ball into the hole.

"That's it," her therapist said.  "Level one down."

"Before she could only move like this, where now you can see she can make these big moves without falling," Gelsomino told us.  "So it's a big improvement since I started to see her."

"Do you amaze yourself sometimes how far you've come?" this reporter asked.

"Yes, I do," the crash survivor replied.  "I really amaze myself."

But there are times of frustration.

"Little kicks forward," Gelsomino instructed.  "It's going to be tough."

"Ooooh," Wang, while unsteady on her feet, said.

The brain trauma left the one-time family physician with cognitive deficits.

"She may have some short-term memory loss," her husband said.  "She might need a few more reminders to stay on schedule and then sometimes simple problems."

Theresa says she has post-traumatic stress, but actually considers it a blessing that she cannot remember the crash itself that forever changed her life.

"I keep thinking maybe it will come in my dreams, but I don't so that's good," she said.  "I'm thankful for that."

Former UH quarterback Colt Brennan was a passenger in the other vehicle.  His girlfriend, Shakti Stream, was behind the wheel.  Their injuries were not as severe.

Big Island police have not disclosed why Stream drove into on-coming traffic.

Despite everything they've been through, Theresa and David are not bitter, choosing instead to focus their energies on moving forward and healing.

"Her and Colt, they were in their late 20s when this happened," Chen said.  "We were in our late 20s when we met.  We were just silly kids then, too.  We didn't know any better.  If it had happened to us, I would have wanted the other person on the other side to give us the benefit of the doubt."

Kona prosecutors were considering negligent injury charges against Stream.

"They said that the punishment could be anywhere up to five years imprisonment," Chen said.  "They asked us if we would like to see that.  We thought about it and we said no."

David says his wife's courage through it all has been inspiring.

"Whatever I've gone through in my day cannot compare to what she's gone through or what she's going through now," he said.  "If she can keep a good attitude and optimism and a smile and keep her faith about it, then we really have no complaints."

"Good.  Forward.  Good," Gelsomino said during another exercise.

Theresa has big goals -- returning to the medical field, driving again, and resuming hula -- while David appreciates the simple things.

"For me, the biggest thing is to have her back next to me in bed," he said.  "That is the, just, I don't know how to, I wouldn't give that up for anything in the world."

Brennan's father, Terry, says he and his family have been following Theresa's remarkable journey through her husband's blog, are happy with her progress, and wish her well.

Theresa hopes to spread her message of hope as a featured speaker at a brain injury conference on Oahu in two weeks.

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