A remarkable recovery

Published 9:22 pm Saturday, July 10, 2010

On her way to school at 7:34 a.m. March 28, 2006 — a week before her 17th birthday — the unthinkable happened to Jaleesa Lewter.

Just blocks from home, Jaleesa’s Honda Civic veered left off the road, hit a ditch drainage pipe and became airborne. She was ejected from the car.

Rescue workers found Jaleesa on a bed of rocks. They thought she was dead.

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Four years later, Jaleesa, 21, is engaged and recently graduated with her pharmaceutical certificate — the first step toward her career goals in the medical field.

“After the accident, we were told we’d never have the same Jaleesa,” her mother Donna Lewter said. “Because she hadn’t been breathing, they were afraid of brain damage, but she finished high school on time and graduated with her class. Each day has been one miracle after another. Now, she’s still pursuing her dreams. That’s Jaleesa.”

Jaleesa’s recovery has been a long one, but she has persevered.

After someone at the scene saw her move a hand, the Nightingale helicopter was called and took her to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where doctors learned that several vertebrae had been smashed in the accident.

Jaleesa spent 30 days in the trauma unit. Then she was transported to Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center, where she stayed until July 22 of that year.

While at Kluge, where she was undergoing therapy, Jaleesa also finished her junior year of school. When school began the following year, Jaleesa rejoined her class and graduated on time.

The only accommodation that had to be made for her at the school was to raise the table on her desk so her wheelchair would fit underneath.

“I didn’t really think about not graduating,” Jaleesa said. “I didn’t think anything. I was excited when I knew I could still do it.”

Just as Jaleesa didn’t allow her accident to impact her ability to graduate, she also hasn’t let it stop her in any other capacity.

“The only thing now is that I can’t walk,” she said. “I can do everything else. There are ways around it. People still treat me the same. I have to take care of myself.”

The one thing that had the biggest impact on her after the accident was the change in her voice from having an intubation for an extended period of time — an insecurity she soon overcame after just a few months.

Donna said she only saw her daughter get down one or two times.

“Everyone in her life stayed with her to help her,” Donna said. “All her co-workers, friends and family have been there. The doctors told us we’d see days where she’d be depressed, but there were only a few times she’d get down because her friends didn’t come over or something. She wasn’t ever depressed though.”

Donna and Ronald, her father, attribute Jaleesa’s recovery and normalcy of life to friends, family and prayer and to Jaleesa’s own determination.

“Ever since she was a little girl, from the time she could walk, she would do what she wanted to,” Donna said. “Her sister was six years older, but she’s was right there with her. If there was something she wanted to do, she’d figure out a way to do it.”

Proof of her conquering attitude is her dream to one day go into the medical field.

It began when she was a young girl with dreams of becoming a pediatrician.

After completing her pharmaceutical certification and attending Tidewater Community College in the fall to take classes to become a medical secretary, she may be well on her way.

“I saw it as a stepping stone,” Jaleesa said. “I always knew I wanted to go into medicine. Now, I’ve been helped so much I want to be there for someone else.”