SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 UTAH) She was a missionary taking a photo of a rainbow. A few minutes later she was a patient in a hospital - clinging to life.
The Australia Accident
In fact, doctors said Kendal Levine would never, walk or talk or even get out of bed. But doctors didn't take into account Kendal's will to survive and to thrive. This is her story of improvement and inspiration. "When I opened my car door - this man feel asleep and plowed right into me. And threw me thirty feet. Drove up on top of me and his car was pinning my chest on the ground." 20-year-old Kendal Levine was unconscious and wasn't breathing. A young man, who had taken an emergency response class just a few weeks before the accident, came running over from across the street. Kendal says "(He) saw what happened and knew that if he didn't get the car off of me I would surely die. So, he ran back to his house and grabbed a car jack. Ran back to me. Got the car off of me. Got me into recovery position. I threw up and started breathing." Kendal, who was serving a religious mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Australia - was rushed to a hospital. In a coma - with a severe brain injury - and barely alive. Her mother, Melody Levine describes her condition. "She wasn't breathing on her own. She was on a ventilator. Her heart rate was crazy...Everything was going wrong. She had infections. She caught pneumonia." Surgeons had to remove a large part of her skull - because of brain swelling. After four weeks with no verbal or physical response and no voluntary movement - she was transported to a medical center in Hawaii were her parents lived.
Different Hospital - Same Condition.
Kendal doesn't remember any of her time in the Australia or Hawaii hospitals. But her mother Melody does. "She was starting to contract. Her arms would get stuck like this. Tweaking a little bit. Her hand would go like this just to grab onto something. But it wasn't intentionally." "We'd tell her to put her thumb up. Blink your eyes. Kendal, can you move your foot and it was just a dead stare." "The neurologist in charge said she's not going to get any better. She is not going to walk or talk or eat on her own. She's going to be a girl in a bed for the rest of her life. You need to put her in a home where they can care for her." Kendall didn't hear the doctors diagnosis or maybe she did. Because when it looked like she was destined to live in a bed for the rest of her life - Melody says Kendal responded. Captured on video you can hear the moment. Melody says "Kendal, turn your hand and throw the ball." And Kendal actually turned her hand around and in a slight throwing motion let go of the ball that was placed in her clinched hand. On video it doesn't look like much - but it was everything. It meant she could hear. It meant that she could respond. "I made her do it again. I said Kendal, do it again. Do it again."
Rehab in Utah
That response helped her get approved for a rehab bed at the University of Utah Hospital. Where Kendal's recovery slowly began. Melody says "She was starting to whisper a few things after a few weeks. She is starting to move her head on her own." However, she says she was a long way from doing anything other than just being in bed. "She could not sit up on her own. She could not stand. She couldn't do anything." Every day was a struggle. And that is something even Kendal remembers. "I had therapist all around me holding me up. It took four therapist to help me stand up and take even one step." But Kendal was determined to get better. "Frustration comes constantly. I have to just push through it. Suck it up. And get over it." Watching her rehab is inspiring and at the same time it is heart breaking. Especially when you know Kendal has been athletic all her life even played college basketball. But she says she never let failures and never let frustrations get her down. "I don't think I ever had those thoughts. I've always known I was going to get better." In a brief television or internet story - improvement seems dramatic and quick. However, the reality was painstaking. Kendal has been slowly "getting better" through several rehab sessions every week now for three years.
One of her major accomplishments along the way - walking an entire mile during Ragnar Relay in 2017. Kendal says 'It was probably the hardest mile I walked in my life. "The very last stretch - I was really frustrated. I almost wanted to cry and this guy went by me and said 'Kendal, you're doing a good job'. That kind of took away my sadness and I was able to push toward the end line."
Improving and Inspiring
Kendal has inspired thousands of people with her recovery. The Facebook page about her recovery - Prayers for Sister Kendal Levine https://www.facebook.com/groups/546093822159438/ - has nearly eight thousand followers. Plus, dozens of people come to see and hear her speak about her accident and her recovery. While she provides inspiration, she says she also gets inspiration from those who follow her and encourage her. "They always comment how well I am doing and how they are amazed and that gives me an extra boost to keep going." She is grateful for the support of friends and strangers, but even more thankful for the sacrifices made by her mom and dad. "They've done everything. They gave up their life in Hawaii to come back to Utah." "If I was in Hawaii I wouldn't be getting the recovery I am getting here." (continues below)
That's because Kendal does her rehab at Neuroworx - a non-profit therapy center in Sandy, Utah. And the 23 year old gets time with therapists beyond what insurance covers. Jan Black is a therapist and co-founder of Neuroworx and says Kendal's effort and recovery have been amazing. "Her protective responses are 100% different. We went from falling over to actually making the steps to keep from falling." That doesn't surprise Kendal's mom - because she knows her daughter's heart. "We never thought this was it for her. We just knew inside ourselves that she was going to get better - that she was going to recover."
Kendal can now walk with just a cane. She can get up when she falls. And she can keep her balance - most of the time. But the 23-year-old says she isn't done recovering. "It's not easy to be this girl not able to do much. I want to be able to get up and do stuff like I use to." And along the way - she hopes she inspires others to overcome their challenges as well. "Hard things do happen, but you can always overcome those things if you work hard." "You're not going to get better just hoping and praying that things will magically happen. You have to put forth the effort and the work to get better. " Kendal also wants to improve and recovery enough to get cleared to finish her LDS mission in Australia. And she says she would love someday to go back to Hawaii and show the doctors who wrote her off - that she can walk and talk and live a normal life.
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