By Tim Eberly
A young Chinook woman has shown signs of breaking through a coma that has gripped her for almost six weeks after she suffered severe head trauma in a car accident.
A patient in the intensive care unit of Benefis Health Care in Great Falls since early January, 20-year-old Brooke Beard started moving body parts Sunday, and has also recognized family members, relatives said today.
Beard has been able to move her fingers and her legs, relatives said. She also moved her head when she turned and recognized her husband of three years, Heath, in her hospital room.
"She turned her head a little bit and saw him and her eyes got big," Joann Beard, Heath's mother, said.
In and out of consciousness, Beard is not out of the woods yet. "She's in a different stage of the coma," Joann Beard said. "She is starting to respond. They've given her commands and she's responded."
Beard is in fair condition in the ICU, hospital spokesman Kurt Miller said. Beard's eyes have remained open since she arrived at Benefis Health Care on Jan. 5, after rolling her vehicle south of Chinook on a sharp bend and ejecting herself 25 feet. "They have a blank look in their eyes," Joann Beard said of coma victims.
All signs of consciousness, though, were nonexistent until last weekend. "When we found out she was making progress, everybody was real excited," Joann Beard said. "That was the first good news since she had the accident."
Beard lost control on a gravel road and rolled her 1990 Oldsmobile Cutlass twice on Paradise Valley Road, 3.4 miles south of Chinook. She was not wearing a seatbelt and alcohol was not a factor in the wreck, which left her vehicle totaled.
Beard was conscious after the accident, but slipped into a coma en route to Northern Montana Hospital, her father, Doug Schnittgen, said in January. She did not break a single bone in the accident, but suffered swelling in her brain, relatives have said.
Doctors originally told Beard's father that she would not wake up for about two weeks. After several weeks had passed, doctors braced Beard's family for the worst.
"The doctors told us that if she did not show any response by five weeks, the outlook would be pretty bleak," Joann Beard said.
Immediate family members have been encouraged to visit Beard, with the intent of surrounding her with familiar faces.
"It's a slow process when they start to wake up," Joann Beard said. "She's just like a baby now. She needs to be helped with everything."
Beard's relatives have been told it could take one or two years before they know if she will make a full recovery.
"They can't tell us that until she's further along," Joann Beard said.
Before the car wreck, Beard was a caregiver for Kid's Korner Day Care in Chinook. She also worked as a cashier at the Town Pump service station in Chinook.
Heath, 22, met his wife while they attended Chinook High School, and currently works as a ranch-hand 30 miles south of Chinook. At the time of Beard's accident, he was working for an oil company in Havre. The couple have no children together.