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Video: Woman wakes from coma, defies odds after near-death accident

  1. Closed captioning of: Woman wakes from coma, defies odds after near-death accident

    >>> 8:30 35 with the utah mother denying the odds after a near death experience . just three months ago she was in a coma with a broken spine and some other very serious injuries. today she's walking and talking again. we'll speak with her exclusively in just a couple of minutes. but first, nbc's aditi roy has her story.

    >> reporter: stephen and she'llry eldridshe'll shelly eldridge has done this many times before. but she now needs a wheelchair.

    >> slowly but surery, huh?

    >> reporter: and her husband's help to enjoy these late summer days by the lake, yet she considers herself lucky.

    >> obviously i don't know what i would do without him. i just feel so blessed hr her life-altering moment happened in june. she and her family were on vacation in hawaii. they rented mopeds to see the sites. they were traveling along this road when shelly slammed into a pole.

    >> i think that someone probably hit her.

    >> my oldest was the one that saw me first. and he took off his shirt because he saw me bleeding everywhere.

    >> her legs were severely disfigured. her hips were disfigured. when i saw her, i thought she died.

    >> reporter: shelly broke her spine in four places. shattered her pelvis, and fractured her skull and facial bones . the next morning, she slipped into a coma.

    >> it became pretty apparent that she wasn't going to wake up. our whole worlds had been turned upside-down.

    >> reporter: she was unresponsive for weeks. one doctor recommended to steven , a trained physician himself, to withdraw life support , but steven wouldn't do it.

    >> we made the decision that we were going to move forward at all costs.

    >> reporter: then a turning point.

    >> i walked over to her right side. i saw her. i walked over to her left side and she tracked me. she actually followed my path.

    >> reporter: then one day steven told a joke at the hospital and shelly laughed.

    >> we looked over and she -- i said, shelly , did you hear that? she raised her eyebrows. i thought to myself, if i have my wife and that's all i get, that's okay.

    >> reporter: within days, shelly spoke, moved, and eventually came home, defying tremendous odds. her family and her doctor described shelly 's recovery as remarkable she goes through grueling physical therapy three times a week. her goal, to be able to walk without any help.

    >> my kids get so excited when i could stand up and when i could walk. i just feel really bad for the decision they had to make.

    >> reporter: a decision that saved her life and spared her family heart break. for "today," aditi roy, nbc news, salt lake city .

    >> shelly eldridge is with us exclues vly along with her husband and their sons alex and jordan . good morning to all of you. nice to have you here. how are you feeling?

    >> good. i'm feeling great. much better.

    >> i said to you before i said it's good to have you here, and it's really great for you to be anywhere these days, isn't it?

    >> right, yeah.

    >> do you remember the accident at all?

    >> i don't.

    >> nothing.

    >> no.

    >> it's amazing how it works.

    >> i remember right up before because we had eaten at mcdonald's and i remember that. we stopped at a lot of placeses before the accident to take pictures. and i've seen the pictures but i don't remember seeing those things.

    >> do you remember anything at your early days of hospitalization at all?

    >> i don't remember being in hawaii at all in the hospital. once i got back and woke up from the coma i remembered that.

    >> part of the story where the doctor says he walked around the room and noticed your eyes were tracking him. the other part where steven told a joke and says that you laughed and raised your eyebrows when he said can you hear me, yet you don't remember that at all.

    >> no.

    >> parts of you were coming back even though you weren't completely aware of it.

    >> it gradually came back. there's probably quite a bit in the hospital i don't remember that i did, but it slowly is coming back.

    >> now that you've talked to everybody and you've spoken to the doctors and you know what your condition was like and it was grave, to the point where some doctors suggested that your family might want to consider taking you off life support .

    >> yeah.

    >> how do you explain the recovery? are there medical reasons, in your opinion, or something more?

    >> i think it's more. i do. i mean, my doctors were so great. they were so good. but i mean, everyone, even the doctor said she doesn't have a chance of coming back. i just think we're so blessed and hopefully i can find my mission and help other people.

    >> you're a trained doctor. and how do you explain what happened?

    >> well, there's not a lot of medical justification. the brain injury and the testing that demonstrated a loss of typical brain architecture was not consistent or compatible with life or return of function. and it was very disheartening to face the possibility or likely possibility of her never being able to wake up or function.

    >> at a time when the doctors come to you and basically say, i would imagine to you first, i'm not sure whether you shared it with the boys, you might want to consider withdrawing life support . did you choose to talk to them about that?

    >> no, no.

    >> no?

    >> guys, you didn't have any idea it was that grave?

    >> no.

    >> i didn't.

    >> uh-uh.

    >> alex , you were the one who actually found your mom first?

    >> i was, yeah.

    >> what was that like?

    >> when i realized that she wasn't behind me i turned around and came around a corner and there i saw her just lying on the ground. wrapped around the pole. and she wasn't moving, but then she started to move and i'm just glad she's with us today.

    >> she hasn't stopped since then. she's getting better every single day. jordan , what do you learn about your mom after an experience like this?

    >> that she's a lot stronger than i thought she was. that she's pulled through a lot of stuff, and just kind of hard watching her go through it but it's easier to see now how much like she's gone through and how good she's doing it.

    >> you're a very active person, i should mention. you're a cyclist. you love to be out there active. while you can be more and more active each day, still trust trading for you?

    >> it is a little bit frustrating. i know i'll be able to do it and finish it and get back to normal. but, yeah, it's hard seeing everything you used to do and not quite being able to do it yet.

    >> i like what you said a second ago, you got to figure out what your mission is now.

    >> yeah.

    >> because clearly you're meant to be here.

    >> yeah.

    >> how long do you think it's going to take you to figure it out?

    >> i don't know. i keep thinking, what am i'm not getting i need to do?

    >> well, i'm sure you will get it and i'm sure you will continue to get better. we're happy you can join us here, shelly . thank you.

    >> thank you.

    >> steven and alex and jordan , nice to have you here as well. .

By
TODAY contributor
updated 9/6/2011 11:04:11 AM ET 2011-09-06T15:04:11

Shelli Eldredge's dream vacation nearly killed her.

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After a moped accident in Hawaii broke nearly 50 of her bones, fractured her skull, snapped her spine and left her in a coma, doctors didn't have much hope for her recovery. One recommended stopping life support.

But her husband, Dr. Stephen Eldredge, couldn't give up.

"We made the decision we were going to move forward at all costs," he said.

Then Shelli defied the odds -- after about a month in a coma, she woke up and started speaking. She’s now back home in Utah, talking and walking with assistance. She’s working hard in physical therapy three times a week with the goal of returning to her active life.

Shelli Eldredge said on TODAY that she feels lucky to be alive and believes something more than modern medicine was responsible for her miraculous recovery.

“I think it’s more. I do,” Shelli Eldredge told TODAY’s Matt Lauer. “My doctors were so great. They were so good, but I mean, everyone, even the doctor said 'She doesn’t have a chance of coming back.' I just think we’re so blessed and hopefully I’ll find my mission and can help other people.”

The accident happened in June, while she and her family were taking in the sights on mopeds. Her son Alex, 17, was the first to notice she wasn’t with the rest of the family.

“When I realized she wasn’t behind me, I turned around and came around the corner,” he told TODAY. “There I saw her lying on the ground wrapped around the pole. I’m just glad she’s with us today.”

When her husband first saw his badly injured wife, he thought she had died.

“It became pretty apparent that she wasn't going to wake up,” said Stephen Eldredge, who believes she was hit by a car. “Our whole worlds had been turned upside down.”

And despite a brain injury Dr. Eldredge believed was medically impossible to recover from, his wife began to show signs of life. The turning point came when Shelli Eldredge laughed after her husband told a joke at the hospital.

“We looked over, and I said, 'Shelli, did you hear that?’” Dr. Eldredge said. “And she raised her eyebrows. I thought to myself, ‘If I have my wife and that's all I get, that's OK.’"

Days later, she began to speak and move, and eventually returned home, defying the long odds against her. Today, she uses a wheelchair but can walk with help.

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"My kids got so excited when I could stand up and when I could walk,” said Eldredge, who doesn’t remember the crash or being hospitalized in Hawaii.

Eldredge hopes to make a full recovery, though she acknowledges the frustration of not being there yet.

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“I know I’ll be able to do it and finish it and get back to normal, but it’s hard seeing everything you used to do and not quite being able to do it yet,” said Eldredge, an avid cyclist.

For now, she’s feeling good. “I’m feeling great, much better."

Today, her sons are just happy to see the progress their mom is making day by day.

“She’s a lot stronger than I thought she was,” said Eldredge’s 13-year-old son, Jordan. “She’s pulled through a lot of stuff. It’s just kind of hard watching her go through it, but it’s easier to see now how much she’s gone through, and how good she’s going it.”

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