By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service

CLINTON, Miss.--After a rainy-night car accident two years ago, the outlook for 22 year-old Mandy McGehee looked pretty bleak.

The Brandon resident and Mississippi College student had sustained a severe brain injury in the accident and had emergency surgery. “I was supposed to die in surgery they told me,” she recalled. “Even when I didn’t, they still said I had a 20 percent chance to live. When I made it, they said I’d have the mentality of a six-year old for the rest of my life.”

Two years, four months of therapy, more months of outpatient therapy and countless frustrating moments later, McGehee, now 24, is getting the last laugh.

At 7 p.m. Friday night, the dean’s list student donned cap and gown to receive her degree in public relations from MC.

“My friends at church say I’m their miracle child,” McGehee said.

McGehee was admitted to Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s brain injury floor two weeks after the accident, said MRC case manager Joy Posey. She couldn’t talk or sit up by herself, but with prayers, determination and therapy, she made an unbelievably fast recovery.

When she first arrived, therapists told her mother, Ann Cowley, it might be six months before McGehee could talk. She started talking the next day, her mother recalled.

“It was a very faint, quiet voice at first,” she said. “But every day, it got better and better. Her entire experience at MRC was like that. She didn’t take baby steps. Each day she made a 100 percent improvement on the previous one.”

The support of her family played a large role in McGehee’s recovery, said her physician, MRC medical director Dr. Rahul Vohra. “She has done exceptionally well and I don’t think that miracle is too small a word to use,” he said.

“He was a real blessing to us because he didn’t hold her back at all,” Cowley said of Vohra. “Anything we suggested to him, he’d look at and say ‘Okay, let’s try it.’

“Mandy wasn’t afraid to fail. There were times when she would get aggravated, but she kept working at it. When she failed, she didn’t get depressed. It made her mad and she worked that much harder,” Cowley said.

That family support was a big key to McGehee’s success, said Posey. “When she came to us, she was severely impaired. But she was very cooperative and she had strong support from her family,” she said.

When Posey received her invitation to McGehee’s graduation, she was overwhelmed. “I knew she would do it. There was never any doubt,” she said. “I was concerned sometimes that she might not achieve all of her goals, but she never was.”

Finishing her education was McGehee’s main priority. “I was determined to get back to school,” she said. Psychological testing at the end of October 1998 revealed McGehee had regained a high school reading level. By December, she was reading on a college level again.

McGehee enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi for the Spring 1999 semester, taking six hours. The next Fall -- just one year after her accident -- she was back at MC taking a full course load.

“This is such a blessing,” she said of her graduation, “because I was told it would take years and years for this to happen if it happened at all.”