POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 1, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 10:48 p.m. HST, Aug 1, 2011
After more than eight months of hotels, hospital suites and a seemingly endless regimen of medical treatments and therapy, Dr. Theresa Wang and husband David Chen are embarking on a personal odyssey of an entirely different sort: the search for normalcy.
Wang, who was critically injured Nov. 19 when the car she was driving collided head-on with a sport utility vehicle driven by Shakti Stream, girlfriend of former University of Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, returned home to Kona on Saturday after spending the last seven months undergoing rehabilitation at Craig Hospital in Denver and other mainland facilities.
"Our goal right now is to just stay home, relax and get things sorted out," said Chen, who racked up some 50,000 frequent-flier miles commuting back and forth between the mainland and Hawaii. "This is a time to get to know each other again. We just want to get back to what can be considered normal."
The couple got off to a solid start Sunday with breakfast prepared by Chen, a trip to Waikoloa Community Church and a lazy afternoon reading the newspaper.
Yet for all of the progress she has made in the past eight months, Wang is still profoundly affected by the accident, which left her in a coma for weeks and necessitated a half-dozen surgeries to address a host of serious injuries, including three spinal fractures, damage to a blood vessel to her brain that caused paralysis, swelling of the brain, a collapsed lung and numerous fractures to her ribs, arms and legs.
Chen said his wife's experience as a physician both helped and hindered her recovery.
"She'd question every procedure and every medication, but she also kept the nurses on their toes," he said.
Wang was also able to look at her own transfer report and grasp the severity of her injuries, which in turn helped her to accept the months of agonizing rehabilitation that lay ahead.
Wang still suffers from post-traumatic amnesia and has no memory of the accident nor of the preceding two months. Because of lingering short-term memory loss and brain damage that affects her ability to detect visual cues, Wang has decided to give up practicing medicine rather than risk her patients' safety.
Wang has filed suit against Stream, who according to police was at the wheel when the SUV crossed the center line and struck Wang's car. Yet both Wang and Chen say they bear no ill will toward Stream for the collision. Forgiveness, they said, was a necessary first step to recovery.
Chen admits it was difficult to get past his anger over the situation, but counsel from his pastor and an eye-opening group therapy session helped him find peace.
"I attended a support group for people who have suffered brain and spinal cord injuries and their families, and I heard their anger," Chen said. "I heard from people who were angry at the drunk driver who harmed their loved one and wanted him sent to prison for the rest of his life. So I spoke out and said that the first step in healing was to forgive and that we had to redirect all that negative energy or we would end up carrying it around, which wouldn't help our loved ones recover."
Chen's devotion to Wang has been evident for as long as they've been together. They found each other via mutual friends who set them up on a blind date that never happened. Wang had just graduated from medical school in Edmonton, Alberta, and was preparing to move to Montreal. Chen was finishing an accounting program and was scheduled to take the national board exam the same day as the proposed date. Instead, he passed along a photo with an invitation to write. They spent the first years of their relationship exchanging letters, with Chen overcoming Wang's initial reservations with his pages-long letters.
Next month they'll celebrate 17 years of marriage — at home.
"Last night (Saturday) was the first time we slept in the same bed in eight months," Chen said. "It's great to have her home."