Nebraska gymnast makes big strides after massive brain trauma

Posted by: Laura Wilson

LINCOLN–She suffered massive brain trauma.

Now, a Nebraska gymnast is learning how to live again.

Terry Boulais says he still remembers the chilling call like it was yesterday.

"They had basically told us, ‘your worst nightmare has come true.  Your daughter has had an accident and all we can tell you is that she is breathing.’”

His daughter, Heather—an acrobatic gymnast at Union College—had fallen 23 feet while hanging her aerial silks on the gym ceiling during practice.

The fall caused massive damage to the left side of her brain.

"She had a lot of swelling in the brain, and it took quite a while for us to be able to maintain things in the zones that we wanted them, that we thought were the best for her recovery,” said Dr. Reg Burton, of the Bryan Trauma Center.

Heather’s parents say it was surgeons at Bryan Health that saved their daughter’s life.

But in the months to follow, they say it was the power of prayer that saved their own lives.

“It’s hard to take your next breath when you look at your daughter and see the suffering she’s going through.  Those prayers lifted us up in the morning and got us out of bed,” recalls Heather’s mom, Cheryl Boulais.

Heather has had to re–learn how to do everything—walking, eating, smiling, and even breathing.

“That’s really hard to describe, because you’re really excited about every single miracle and every little piece of progress, and yet you’re heartbroken over the life–changing situation that she’s undergone,” said Cheryl Boulais.

"You have to change your thankfulness to, per step,” added Terry Boulais.

Her sister, Rachel, has been there every step of the way, during Heather’s physical therapy

"It’s a world I’d thought I’d never be thrown into.  But every minute of me being with her has been worth it because of the progress she’s had,” Boulais said of her sister.

Heather is still unable to talk, but her smile speaks volumes about the progress she’s making.

And her family expects she’ll have plenty more to smile about in the future.

"We’re seeing voice in her laughter and hearing her trying to mouth different things and getting more control.  I hope it just keeps going," said Rachel Boulais.

Heather will be honored at next Thursday’s Trauma Champions event, put on by
Bryan Health.

She’ll have a chance to meet everyone who played a part in saving her life.

Channel 8’s Rod Fowler will be there to emcee the event.