INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - A sex hormone is what may be behind Andrea Vellinga's amazing recovery. The State Fair accident victim is taking part in a cutting-edge clinical trial.
Tuesday, in an exam room on the sixth floor at IU Health Methodist Hospital, Vellinga showed off her progress during a follow-up visit with her doctor.
"Let me see you walk," said Dr. Michael Turner, a neurosurgeon at Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine.
Instantly, the smiling 30-year-old put on the helmet that protects her skull, slid off the exam table and started walking.
When Turner asked: "Can you walk on your tip toes?", she did.
And the wife and mother from Pendleton performed gracefully, like a ballerina.
Vellinga's recovery has surprised everyone. Her skull was crushed when stage rigging collapsed last August before a Sugarland show at the Indiana State Fair. For weeks, Vellinga was in a coma.
Her surgeon, Dr. Turner, sums up her progress in one word: awesome.
And that progress may be linked to what happened in the hospital hours after Vellinga's skull was crushed. That night, grasping at anything that could help, Andrea's family enrolled her in a cutting-edge experimental trial. It's called SyNAPSe .
"My family decided to do it, and they knew I wanted to do it," Vellinga said.
The test uses the pregnancy hormone progesterone. It's been shown to help reduce swelling and improve the memory of those who suffer a traumatic brain injury. Doctors won't know whether Vellinga got the actual drug or just a placebo for at least two years.
Traumatic brain injuries are complicated to treat. Few drugs have shown the promise that progesterone has shown in early studies. If in fact Andrea got the progesterone through the study, it could be what led to her remarkable recovery. Plus, doctors say it could also hold the key to a more successful recovery for millions more like her who suffer such devastating injuries.
But more and more she's showing signs of the Andrea Vellinga they all knew before Aug. 13.
Tuesday, she shared with 24-Hour News 8 a few funny stories, including the one about her prank on April Fools' Day.
"I called my mom and told her I was pregnant," she said with big smile. "She didn't think it was funny either."
Her doctor sees that as proof of her progress, though.
"She is quite the talker," Turner said following Vellinga's checkup. "She has a personality, and her from her April Fools' jokes, she has her sense of humor back."
Eight months ago, Vellinga needed machines to breathe. Now she just needs a helmet, hope and help from her family. Especially her daughter, Lydia.
"She is so cute. She holds my hand when we walk. She says, ‘Mommy, I don't want you to fall and hit your head again," Vellinga said. "She always says, ‘Mommy, no more concerts, indoors or outdoors."
Vellinga was in town for special appointments with her doctors. She is undergoing rehab at a facility in Michigan. She's expected to return home for good in May - just in time for her 31st birthday. The city of Pendleton has special activities planned to celebrate.
On May 19 - Andrea's birthday - she is planning to walk in a 5k.
More Info: FortheLoveofAndrea.com
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