INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - The simple task of spelling her name is a small victory for Andrea Vellinga.
For six weeks, the 30-year-old was unable to talk. She couldn't breathe on her own. And doctors who cared for her say the wife and mother from Pendleton was minutes from death.
Aug. 13 was supposed to be one of the most memorable nights of her life. Instead, life changed forever.
That night, she was standing in the Sugar Pit, waiting to see her beloved Sugarland perform at the Indiana State Fair, when strong winds whipped. When the rigging from the stage collapsed, Andrea was pinned underneath.
Many thought Andrea would be the eighth victim of Indiana State Fair stage collapse to die.
Monica Hammerly, a nurse at IU Health Methodist Hospital, treated Andrea during the first eight days of her recovery.
"We call her our miracle girl because she is our miracle girl," Hammerly said.
For two other people at the concert that night, going to see Sugarland was a last-minute decision. Kerwyn and Angela Martin finally had a day off together and were excited to spend time together.
"I just remember this nudge said, 'Just buy the tickets, and enjoy the evening with your husband,'" Angela, a general surgery resident, recalled.
That nudge put Angela and her husband, a paramedic, at Andrea's side.
"(Andrea's) breathing was very shallow, her pulse was very weak," Kerwyn Martin said, remembering the scene after the accident. "She just needed someone to help breathe for her."
The two fought forcefully to get Andrea into an ambulance.
"When we finally got her in the trauma bay, we knew we gave her a shot," Angela Martin said.
The right side of Andrea's skull was crushed. Her brain was swelling. Doctors removed pieces of her skull to reduce pressure.
One of her lungs collapsed, and she had three broken vertebrae in her spine.
The wife and mother was in a coma for six weeks. But prayer has been the family's prescription for healing.
Nov. 8, Andrea underwent a two-hour surgery to replace the portion of her skull that was missing. That morning, her father, Steve Voss, led the family in prayer.
"We ask for Your blessing on those providing her care today, " her father said.
After a kiss from her parents and husband, Mike, nurses transported Andrea to the operating room.
She smiled all the way.
The mother and wife has something to smile about. While recovering, her family and community have been extremely supportive.
Andrea's mom wears a necklace with an inscription: "For the love of Andrea." It's been the motto for her family and friends. Her hometown of Pendleton is decorated in pink - Andrea's favorite color. Pink banners hang throughout the community with a population of nearly 4,000.
With her family nearby that day, Andrea's surgery was a success. But the road to recovery for Andrea isn't over.
Remembering is a struggle for her.
Three days before Thanksgiving and three months after the collapse, Andrea said she is thankful.
"They saved my life," she said of Angela and Kerwyn Martin while sitting in her room at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana.
With the Martins being in right place at the right time, Andrea believes something bigger than luck played a role in her recovery.
"It means something that, hey, we're praying," she said.
The Vellinga and Voss families said they are grateful for the help and prayers that have been showered on them, and released this statement:
"Our faith in God has sustained us throughout this journey. We never doubted that God would supply us with the strength needed.
"We have seen amazing progress in Andrea's healing and many answered prayers. We have also witnessed amazing stories of God's work not just in Andrea's life but in the lives of people touched by her story.
"Andrea's journey to healing will continue in the months and years ahead. We will always be thankful for the miracle that God has already performed, and for the many surgical and health care professionals that were His instruments.
"Thank you for the prayers lifted up and the support we have had from so many families and communities."
Indeed, faith played a major role as Andrea fought to survive.
But her journey is far from over.
She has spent the last two months taking physical, occupational and speech therapy at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indianapolis. Prior to that, she received treatment at St. Vincent Seton Specialty Hospital.
Therapy sessions at RHI are three hours each day and five days per week.
Andrea has gone as far as she can at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indianapolis. She will have to spend the next three to six months at a facility in Michigan.
But it's not her body or doctors standing in the way; Despite being one of the largest metropolitan cities and a hub for health care, Indiana doesn't have advanced facilities to keep Andrea or other traumatic brain injury patients in the state for intensive therapy. And that is something state senators are working to change.
three things that have to come together in the state of Indiana and we are working diligently on that now," Sen. Patricia Miller said. "One is the funding stream.
Miller is leading the fight. She introduced a bill last year that would have paved the way for traumatic brain injury rehabilitative services in Indiana.
These programs provide intensive therapy and help patients transition to settings of greater independence. State lawmakers rejected it.
Coupled with funding, Miller says congress must approve a licensing category and providers willing to provide the costly care.
"I've talked to individuals that are interested in developing traumatic brain injury services," said Miller, also a registered nurse. "If we can bring all of those things together this year then next year we can move forward."
Similar legislation will be back on the table in January.
Those backing Miller, like Dr. Lance Trexler, say their can be setbacks when patients leave the state.
"I think it is detrimental to their recovery process," Trexler said, noting about 60- 80 traumatic brain injury patients are sent out of state for continued care each year.
Trexler chairs the Brain Injury Association of Indiana and has lobbied in Washington for adequate brain injury services here. He says studies show there are consequences if patients don't get all the care they need.
"The rates of depression are about 60-70 percent within one year after injury," he said. "The rate of divorce goes up to as high as 85 percent." As for Andrea statistics are just that. The wife and mother who was minutes away from dying is determined to continue beating the odds.
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