http://thenewsdispatch.com/main.asp?Sec ... leID=23612
5/30/2009 11:00:00 AM
No Place Like Home
One month after accident, City track star leaves hospital
MICHIGAN CITY - Shopping and dresses - two things Michigan City High School senior Courtney Brinckman loves.
With graduation rapidly approaching, the 18-year-old got to shop Wednesday for that much-needed dress. The track-and-field star was just a stone's throw away from Chicago's Water Tower Place at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where she was staying after suffering a serious head injury April 28 in a pole-vaulting accident.
Accompanied by her mother, Dottie, the two found a knee-length, blue-and-white gown with thin straps.
They got it.
"I got a graduation dress," Courtney said.
She was tired and weak, but she had her dress.
While digging through her closet at home Friday for another dress she's considering for either Monday's senior distinction banquet or the June 7 graduation ceremony, she came to another realization: She needs to clean her closet.
Ah, the beauty of being home again.
Brinckman returned home Friday after a month-long stay in Chicago hospitals, recovering from her nearly fatal head and brain injury.
"I'm happy to be here right now," she told The News-Dispatch on Friday. "... I'm just happy I'm walking; I'm talking; I'm breathing. My heart is beating in my chest.
"... I just can't wait to graduate."
On her way home after leaving RIC at about 10:30 a.m. Friday, Courtney and her mom stopped by MCHS to say hello. The word quickly got out she was there.
Guidance counselors, teachers, friends and teammates assembled in the hallway. Suddenly, it was an informal welcome home party.
Many were relieved to see her home, safe and sound.
"That's the most exciting thing that's happened at this school this year ... Courtney coming to school," City girls track & field coach Tim Bumber said.
Figuring out which dress she's going to wear is not Courtney's only problem now that she's home.
"I need to get new shoes," she said.
What dress or shoes to wear on graduation day was an afterthought four weeks ago. Being alive was more important.
In the first days - hours - after her accident, there was uncertainty between Courtney's parents and her doctors whether she was going to live. Dottie also was worried about whether or not Courtney would still be the same happy-go-lucky, upbeat person.
"It was just pure hell," Dottie recalled. "You wonder, 'What's she going to be like? Is she going to be a vegetable? Is there going to be any brain damage?' You just don't know. You just wonder."
Courtney has about a 4- by 5-inch mark on the right side of her head where a portion of her skull has been removed. That piece is implanted in her abdomen until the neurosurgeons believe it is time to replace the piece.
Brinckman is scheduled to meet with surgeons next week to discuss the plan.
"It looks like I'm pregnant with an alien baby," she joked. "But I'm not. It's just my skull in there; keeping it warm and sterile."
For now, she wears a hockey helmet anytime she's up and moving around.
The hockey helmet, which is signed by family and friends wishing her the best, has become part of her graduation ensemble. Figuring out how to put the graduation cap over the helmet will be fun, she says.
But it's a welcome problem after even being able to attend graduation seemed unlikely.
"She has such a will, a lust for life," Bumber said. "What a great thing. It's a day we've all been thinking about, and now it's a reality. It's real special.
"... Her dad put it best when he called it a miracle."
Hopefully only for now, Brinckman doesn't have a sense of taste or smell. But she is hopeful once her skull piece is put back into place, everything will return to normal.
Friday wasn't the first time she was officially home.
On Sunday, she was granted a day pass, but had to be back at the hospital by 8 that night.
"That was very nice," Brinckman said. "All my friends came over, too. And I got to eat real good food. Something that was edible."
She also took a nap in her own bed. She hated her bed at RIC. It was an air mattress that monitored various variables, including her weight. It was always moving, and it annoyed her.
Brinckman doesn't remember anything about the accident.
Her last memory is looking for one of her best friends - MaryKate Mellen - to tell her she just broke the school's pole vault record, a record she shared with Shayna Smith at 9 feet 6 inches. Brinckman cleared 10 feet.
"I wanted to tell MaryKate right away, but she was busy winning the (1,600-meter run)," Brinckman said. "So I told her afterwards and she was all excited."
Dottie, who works alongside her husband Phil at Brinckman's Auto Salvage, 2806 E. Michigan Blvd., kept a diary of every bit of good news.
Wiggling of toes.
If Courtney did it, her mom wrote it down.
On Thursday night for the first time, Courtney got to read those notes and couldn't believe her mom was doing that.
On Friday as she pulled up to home again, Courtney was greeted with a poster on the garage door reading, "Welcome Home Courtney" in bright green, orange, blue and purple letters.
A few hours later, in the comforts of her small, but cozy room, an ice cream Oreo cake from her aunt arrived, bringing a smile to her face.
Brinckman's improvement has been a rapid one, Dottie said.
"I guess because she was so young, so strong and healthy," she added. ".. I was just truly amazed at how emotionally stable she was throughout the whole thing. She never said, 'Why me?'"
The rallying support has been enormous: flowers and get-well cards from family, friends, Michigan City High School, Mayor Chuck Oberlie and numerous schools throughout the region.
Dottie had no idea, she says, her daughter meant so much to so many people.
"It was really nice," she added. "It was unbelievable the outpouring of support."
Courtney said, "It's unbelievable the community support I've been getting. I was glad everybody was praying for me because it worked."
Mellen, along with her best friends Katrina Edling, Elizabeth Miltenberger and Meghan Quinlan, were constant visitors for Courtney. Mellen said they were alongside her whenever they could be there. They were there at Porter hospital, which is where Courtney was taken moments after the accident before being airlifted to Chicago.
In those first few days, Mellen called it one of the worst weeks of their lives.
But it was the core of friends and their positive outlook that everything was going to be OK, which helped the Brinckmans get by.
And they were there to give her the juicy details about the biggest dress night of them all for a high school girl: prom.
Michigan City's prom was May 16. By mid-week, the family still hadn't told Courtney she was going to have to miss her prom.
But not to worry. Her prom date, Austin Morse, saved the day. Almost like he was a knight in shining armor.
Morse told Dottie he still wanted her to be his date, and wanted to bring the prom to her.
So, he came dressed up in his tuxedo with vest matching the color of Courtney's dress - coral. The dress also had sequins and beads strung around the neckline, with the length going down to her ankles.
"I was home anyways, so I took her prom dress, got her dressed up, put the makeup on and we took some pictures," Dottie said. "It was cute."
Courtney was thrilled.
"She got her dress on and I wheeled her around the unit and everybody was oohing and aahing," Dottie said.
For one night, Courtney was a VIP.
"That was fun. I'm glad it happened," she said.
Her friends fed her updates with pictures from the prom through text messages.
The next morning, the clan, instead of going to Six Flags, visited Courtney in the hospital to give her the scoop on the big night.
"They told me all the ugly dresses," Courtney said.
With whatever dress she decides to wear for graduation, tears will flow at MCHS on June 7.
Courtney's father Phil said, "We'll probably be crying our eyes out," Phil said. "We didn't expect to make it there. My whole family will be crying for happiness."