By Joe Beck - email@example.com
Jymi Rudolph stepped through an entrance to the Strasburg High School cafeteria Saturday night to find a room full of well-wishers greeting her for a 16th birthday celebration that some had worried she would never see.
Many of the 150 or so friends, family members and classmates were meeting her for the first time since a near-fatal car accident on May 9. They took turns throughout the evening hugging Rudolph, a wan, thin figure still showing unmistakable signs of her ordeal, but healing faster than many expected.
"She's very determined and told me she did not belong in a wheelchair," said Amy Rudolph, her mother.
Amy Rudolph said her daughter's "gait is a little off" but she walks unaided except on an incline. She has lost 30 pounds and needs to rebuild her strength. A neuro ophthalmologist is scheduled to see her on Aug. 7 to determine what can be done to repair an eye that has remained crossed since the accident.
Jymi Rudolph arrived at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, unable to move her right leg after weeks at the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville. Amy Rudolph said doctors expected her daughter would need to six to eight weeks at the center, which specializes in treating adolescent brain trauma and spinal cord injuries. Instead, she checked out and returned home on July 6, three weeks later.
"She kept amazing them every single day with her progress," Amy Rudolph said.
Jymi Rudolph said all the attention she was getting as the evening's guest of honor made her uneasy. She stood at the entrance greeting people for a few minutes, then took a seat as people continued to line up to talk to her.
"I don't like it because I don't want to see all these people," she said.
Amy Rudolph said she wasn't too surprised or disappointed by her daughter's reaction.
"She would rather dote on other people than have them dote on her," she said.
Jymi Rudolph said she doesn't remember much about the accident. She was riding in a car with four other high school classmates when the 2001 Saturn went off the side of Mount Hebron Road just before 11 p.m. The driver, Colby Cooper, 18, received a ticket for reckless driving and state patrol investigators listed speed as a factor in the crash. None of the other occupants of the car was seriously injured.
"I remember the swerving, but that's about it," Jymi Rudolph said of the accident. "But I remember having a good time before we got in the car."
The vanished memories of the night include the woman who many family members credit with saving Jymi Rudolph's life in the moments after the accident. Tiffany Shipe, who lives nearby, reached the car to find Jymi Rudolph covered in blood and unresponsive in the back seat. Shipe kept the injured girl breathing by clearing her airways and remained with her until EMTs arrived a few minutes later.
"I don't think she knew who I was," Shipe said after speaking with her briefly for the first time since the accident. "She doesn't remember that night."
Shipe said she was "just happy to meet her, and see she's doing OK."
Shipe, 20, said she was "still kind of in shock" over her role in saving the life of someone she hadn't known before the accident. Her part in the drama that played out on Mount Hebron Road led to her discovering an interest in becoming a paramedic. She said she has spoken to representatives from Lord Fairfax Community College and is likely to enroll for paramedic training in the fall.
Amy Rudolph said her daughter managed to keep up with her schoolwork during the weeks of healing and is interested in becoming a marine biologist. She will be rejoining her classmates as a junior when school reopens.
"She has picked up AP classes over the summer," Amy Rudolph said. "She said she really wants to step up her game so she can go to the University of North Carolina."
Amy Rudolph described the almost three months that have passed since the accident as a roller coaster of emotions for her and her family.
"It's been rough," she said. "There's been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of praying going on."
She said health insurance through her employer appears to be enough to cover the medical bills as they come in.
"We'll get it figured out," she said.