Five months after a horrific traffic accident near the Center for the Arts, Gabriela Rosales returned to Elon University on Aug. 14, 2015, to visit with a campus community whose outpouring of support has lifted her spirits during her ongoing recovery.
Surgeons weren’t sure Gabriela Rosales would survive the night. The Elon University freshman was in critical condition on her arrival to UNC Hospitals in March after being struck by a Toyota Camry in a town crosswalk.
With a shattered skull and multiple fractured bones, the 18-year-old was placed in a medically induced coma from which she would finally open her eyes nearly two weeks later. Even then no one knew what to expect. Would she remember what happened the evening of March 16, 2015? Would she recognize her parents and three sisters, or her friends from El Centro, where the native Nicaraguan spent much of her time as a student?
How much of a recovery was possible?
Some questions still can’t be answered. Others have since come into sharp focus. This much is certain: Gabriela Rosales is now walking, talking, and planning to one day re-enroll at Elon University.
On a balmy Friday afternoon in mid August, just days after leaving the hospital, Rosales visited campus for the first time since the accident, joining friends and Elon staff in El Centro for lunch of rice, beans and plantains – traditional Salvadorian food that was a welcomed change from hospital menus. She was greeted by dozens of people, including Elon President Leo M. Lambert and university chaplains who had been a constant presence by her bedside throughout the summer.
Gaby, as she’s called, spoke quietly and with few words, a common trait of patients recovering from head trauma. She smiled often as she reconnected with familiar faces. With her mom at her side, Rosales’ visit marked another milestone in a healing process that her family calls a “miracle.”
“The doctors have told us that part of her recovery has been all the family members and friends who have come to visit her,” said Carmencita Teran, Gaby’s mother. “It has given her a lot of hope.”
Rosales was discharged from UNC Hospitals in May and has spent the ensuing months in physical, occupational and speech therapy at WakeMed Hospital. Rosales will relocate to Miami this fall to continue her progress, and after completing treatment there, she expects to return to Nicaragua.
Those who know Rosales, who had planned on studying either business or strategic communications, said they aren’t surprised at the way she’s approached the challenges inherent in such a recovery.
“I have certainly seen a great inner strength, a great moral fiber. Her whole family exudes it,” said the Rev. Gerry Waterman, Elon’s Catholic chaplain and a frequent visitor to the hospital. “There’s an amazing strength of character there. I’ve seen Gaby come from the possibility of not continuing in this world, to now with a zest for life, and taking it like all of us need to do: one day at a time! She has a good philosophy.”
Rosales trailed a few feet behind a group of friends from Zeta Tau Alpha that night en route to a sorority meeting when a driver on Williamson Avenue failed to see her in a crosswalk near the Center for the Arts. Police cited the driver with failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk and failure to reduce speed to avoid a collision.
The campus quickly rallied to her side. Countless cards were sent to Rosales, as were many donations to offset family expenses, including an anonymous $1,000 gift from a member of the Alamance County community who read about her plight in media reports.
Sylvia Munoz, associate director for Elon’s Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Education, and director of El Centro, said the family’s appreciation of that community support inspires Rosales in her rehabilitation. Munoz noted that Gaby returned to the crosswalk where she was struck and, like Waterman, described how her forgiveness of the driver and her faith have been a critical reason for her positive outlook.
“We don’t know how far she’s going to go. She still has a long way,” Munoz said. “At the same time, this girl has beaten every single odd.”
The road back to college will be long. No one thinks it’s impossible, least of all her family. The first visit back to campus in August is a sign to those who love her most that Gabriela Rosales will always love Elon and the people who made it her home.
“When she’s ready to come back to Elon, she’s going to come back to Elon,” said her mother Carmencita Teran. “Maybe she can come for the spring, or she can come the following year. It’s a matter of time, and we’re going to go day by day.”