USF student gets her happy ending after car wreck
By Tina Akouris firstname.lastname@example.org May 2, 2013 9:03PM
Kelsi Bender will graduate from the University of St. Francis on Saturday. | Supplied photo
Updated: June 4, 2013 6:35AM
Kelsi Bender will graduate from the University of St. Francis on Saturday.
It’s a big deal in the scheme of life, but it is even more significant for Bender.
The 22-year old nursing student nearly died in a head-on collision two years ago.
So for Bender, who is a native of Polo, Ill. about two hours northwest of Joliet, to walk across the stage and get her degree — on time — is huge. Bender also will participate in an honors pinning ceremony Friday — another huge step in her recovery process.
And one of Bender’s biggest fans besides her parents, Jenny Baker and Ron Bender, is Judy Carino, Bender’s academic advisor. Carino had no doubt that Bender would graduate on time.
“If there was a doubt it was because she is highly critical of herself,” Carino said. “I see the drive and ambition she has, and she knows where she’s headed. There was never a doubt she would reach her goal. She will make sure she makes the steps she needs to.”
Bender’s world came undone the morning of March 28, when she was driving eastbound on U.S. Route 52 near Shorewood on her way to a physiology class. A car crossed the median and hit Bender’s car head-on.
According to published reports at the time of the crash, first responders needed close to an hour to cut Bender out of her car. She was given a 10 percent chance of survival.
“I remember the police officer asking me for my phone and just worrying about getting to class,” Bender said.
A clinical trial
Perhaps most difficult aspect of being a nursing student is the clinical phase of the coursework. Bender’s biggest worry was that she wouldn’t be able to do most of the work and if she could not, then that would set her back from getting her degree on time.
“Some people did not think I could handle it,” Bender said. “People had even mentioned changing my major.”
But Bender did not.
When she went back to USF in August 2011, about five months after the wreck, she had managed to erase more than a month’s work of schoolwork.
After the crash, Bender missed at least six weeks of classes, final exams and other tests. But she made up the work online and caught up by July. Her teachers had originally given her until October to make up the work.
“The following semester, when she came back to complete her work, she made the dean’s list and it was very difficult,” Carino said. “I think that there were points in time where Kelsi had trouble, because she is such a perfectionist and she was always questioning herself. It was a challenge for her.
“There were many times when she came to me and expressed her frustration.”
Bender said her brain has suffered some aftereffects of being injured in the accident.
“I still get tension headaches because my brain went some time without oxygen,” Bender said. “It’s not easy sometimes to pay attention or read, and sometimes I have to read a question (on a test) more than once.”
There is another physical remnant of the accident. Last summer, Bender had to have knee surgery because she tore a ligament in her knee in the crash and doctors had not noticed it until Bender developed symptoms.
And that’s just the physical part. Emotionally, it is a little rougher.
Bender doesn’t drive on U.S. 52 and has switched to taking Interstate 80. She lives in a dorm room on campus, which has helped make life easier for her.
“Driving in general does still make me anxious and I can’t drive in the dark,” Bender said. “I have to move past that, but you just wouldn’t (understand) if you haven’t been there.
“There were times I had to drive (longer distances) for group projects during the day, and that’s fine.”
But it wasn’t fine if Bender couldn’t drive for whatever reason — nervousness or at night — and it would bother her when people just couldn’t understand. It was another roadblock, in a way, to her recovery.
So was being away from her family.
“I had the dorm room in Joliet and it was OK at first when I went back,” Bender said. “But I had been with my family for so long and then to not have them around was hard.”
The next chapter
Bender still has scars from the accident. During her clinicals, Bender was working in emergency rooms and intensive care units. Patients would notice those scars and ask her about them, and she knew how to handle it. That’s a trait that should help her in the real world: Her goal is to be a trauma nurse.
“I remember coming out of sedation, and no one is prepared for that,” Bender said. “When patients would ask me about the scars and I’d tell them what happened they said, ‘Oh, so you know how it’s been.’
“I know how depressing it is and how hard you want to just give up.”
But even after the trauma of what she went through, Bender is taking a practical look at life after USF.
“I still need to find a job,” she said. “I feel like I accomplished quite a bit after the accident, but there is this empty feeling — there are no more exams or (projects).”