A couple of years ago, Ana Cantrell wrecked her bike. She “had war with the road, and the road won,” she said. But she did not let her badly skinned knees give her a fear for riding.
“Afterward, I got back on my bike and went again,” she said.
It is that same attitude that is helping Ana through the fight of her life. It has been six months since Ana’s car was struck by a train at an unmarked, private railroad crossing on Farmlane Road, near Veterans Honor Parkway, in Highland.
During the past 27 weeks, Ana has been undergoing an intensive regimen of physical, occupational, and speech therapy to get her back to where she was before the accident.
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Ana’s mother, Coral Cantrell-Romero, said it will probably be two to five years until her daughter is fully recovered. But Ana’s doctors told her that she has made remarkable progress.
“She’s been very strong through it all,” Cantrell-Romero said.
Accident and aftermath
Ana was on her way home May 3, the day of the accident, her mother said.
“She had been staying with her friend. But came home to shower, eat, do laundry and sometimes sleep,” Cantrell-Romero said. “She was on her way to get a shower and get ready for work.”
She was crossing the track around around 8:30 a.m. when her four-door Suzuki sedan was broadsided by the CSX train, then pushed about 1/4 mile down the tracks before the locomotive was able to stop.
After the accident, Ana was transported to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. She broke her leg, pelvis, some ribs, sternum, clavicle and crushed her jaw. She also had two small breaks in her lower spine and a brain injury.
“She doesn’t remember the first five weeks after the accident,” Cantrell-Romero said.
While her eyes drifted open a few times at Cardinal Glennon, it would be another 24 days until she would be semi-alert in a new bed at the Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital in Maryland Heights, Missouri, her mother said. Two days after she woke up, Ana’s doctors began reintroducing soft food and thick liquids back into her meal plan. Ana had been living off of a feeding tube. At the time, she was 40 pounds underweight.
“She had to relearn how to eat and swallow,” Cantrell-Romero said.
A week later, Cantrell-Romero said Ana began trying to talk. But no sound would come out. After four days of trying, Ana began to speak in a very low, quiet voice. Cantrell-Romero said one of the first things Ana asked about was a little unexpected.
“She kept saying, ‘Who is going to buy my shoes?’ Shoes, clothes and purses. She didn’t care about her food. None of that,” Cantrell-Romero said.
On June 9, with the help of two other people and a walker, Ana took her first couple of steps.
Initially, the family was told Ana would have to stay at the rehabilitation facility for 12 weeks.
“But she was doing so good, and with having therapy right here and me being able to get her there, we came home after a month, instead of waiting out the full three months,” Cantrell-Romero said.
When she made it home, Ana was assigned to attend physical, occupational and speech therapy five times a week at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Highland. At this point, Ana was still in her wheelchair, and because of her brain injury, she was having trouble speaking. She said she would constantly repeat herself and it was hard to find the right words to describe how she felt. Three months after Ana returned to Highland, she was released to walk on her own on flat surfaces. She could also speak normally again.
Ana said that the staff at St. Joseph’s is amazing, and throughout her recovery, she has developed a bond with her nurses and doctors.
“I know I wouldn’t be here without the doctors and the nurses, who like, helped give me my body back to normal,” Ana said.
On Oct. 17, Ana went to visit her neurologist. Her doctors could not believe that she was already walking on her own, her mother said. She was a year ahead of where they thought she would be in her recovery.
Ana said that support from her family has helped to keep her strong.
“Not just my mother, my brother and my dad, but like, my extended family, like my cousins and stuff,” Ana said.
She also feels her grandfather and uncle, who passed away some time ago, are part of the reason behind her progress, too.
“I feel like they are there pushing me to get better,” Ana said.
‘I’m doing good’
Currently, Ana attends therapy at St. Joseph’s in Highland three times a week, but her doctors are considering taking her off of speech therapy. Whenever Ana does not go to the hospital, she does in-home therapy and works on her strength at the Korte Recreation Center. She said her favorite exercise is riding the stationary bike.
“I’m doing good,” Ana said.
Ana said she is slowly starting up some of her hobbies again. While her family watches television in the living room, she will dance with her LED hula hoop to the sound of the program. Recently, with the help of her family, Ana was also able to get back up on a bicycle and ride for a short distance.
While Ana is making great progress, she said her recovery still brings her a lot of aggravation.
“It is very difficult for her to try to learn things again, cause she knows she did it before,” Cantrell-Romero said.
Ana still has trouble stepping down and walking on uneven surfaces and needs her wheelchair for long distances. Ana is also bothered by tremors throughout the left side of her body, which received the most trauma during the crash.
She is also working to relearn other things, such as rudimentary math. Recently, she started working on multiple-number subtraction.
“I’m having a hard time with that, but yeah, I’m learning it,” Ana said. “And it kind of helps having a brother in math, so I can learn with him.”
Ana said she is anxious to get back the freedom that she once had.
“She wants to work, and she wants to drive, and she wants to hang out with her friends, and it’s aggravating for her because she can’t do those things yet. And we don’t know when she will be able to go back to work, of if she will, or if she is going to drive and when, and we don’t know when any of those things are going to happen,” Cantrell-Romero said.
However, her doctors are hopeful. Citing her progress thus far, Ana’s neurologists are predicting she could be at 85 percent at the one-year anniversary of the accident.
Ana hopes to attend college at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville next year. She said that she wants to use her experiences to change others’ lives by pursuing a degree in nursing or special education.
“It’ll help with the kids and the parents to be like, ‘Listen, I did it. So can they.’ It’ll be like a happy experience,” Ana said.
Help from the community
While Ana is making great progress, her mother said that she will likely need some form of treatment for years to come.
“We definitely still need prayers,” Cantrell-Romero said.
At the time of the accident, Ana had no health insurance, and months of hospital stays and therapy has left the family with a lifetime of debt. When Ana was still in the hospital, her mother released a letter asking the community for help.
“The bills, I mean, we are going to have them forever. We are never going to get them all paid. But just day-to-day what we can do to help her to get better faster and to have what she needs, that is what is important to me,” Cantrell-Romero said.
In response to the letter, various organizations within the community took action to raise funds for the family. “Team Ana” T-shirts have been sold by Ana’s friends and family. This year’s Highland Hope Night on the Square also doubled as a fundraiser for Ana. Ana T-shirts were also sold during a local penny auction.
The most recent fundraiser was hosted at Don Ole Mexican Restaurant in Highland last weekend.
“We would like to thank every body, again, who has helped us,” Cantrell-Romero said.
Besides medical needs, Ana is still a teenage girl with a wish-list of her own. After the accident, Ana had to gain back her weight to become healthy. Ana is still in need of some new clothes.
“They told me I had to be back to normal, like on the grow chart. So once I started eating, I couldn’t stop. I never had that problem before,” Ana said.
Her favorite store to shop at is Rue 21. But she also loves Walmart. Ana’s personal request is that she would like to have an adult tricycle. She thinks having a bike with more support will help her to quickly and safely learn how to ride again.
Ana’s mother said the family also needs help supporting their son, Javier, who has been at Ana’s side throughout this whole experience. Cantrell-Romero said that they would also like to start building up Ana and Javier’s college funds, which were decimated after the accident.
For anyone wishing to donate, the family has a benefit fund set up at First Mid Illinois located at 12616 Illinois 143 in Highland. Anyone wishing to contribute to Ana’s recovery or the needs of the family can write a check to the Ana Cantrell Benefit Fund, or bring the donation to the bank, and the tellers will take care of it.
With their needs aside, Ana and her mother said that their family cannot thank the community enough for the support they have already received.
“I just want to thank the community and the groups who have helped me along the way and have been there and shown me support,” Ana said.