News and Events

Beating the Odds

Article Originally published in the April 2006 issue of CLASnotes.

Liz Mikell’s family was afraid she would never finish high school, but this spring she graduates from UF with highest honors.Liz Mikell’s family was afraid she
would never finish high school, but this
spring she graduates from UF with
highest honors.
Liz Mikell does not remember the first day of summer vacation following her sophomore year of high school, when she and a friend decided to drive to the lake and get an early start on their suntans. She has no memory of giggling with her friend as they turned into the neighborhood of the Gainesville, Georgia lake house where they planned to spend the day, nor can she recall the moment a Dodge Ram T-boned the passenger side of the small Nissan in which she was riding.

She may not have any memories of the event that forever changed her life, but Liz has spent the past six years recovering from its effects. There was a time when her parents thought she would never return to high school, but this spring she graduates from the University of Florida with highest honors.

Despite wearing her seatbelt, Liz received an intense blow to her head during the accident, causing a severe brain injury. When she finally began to awake from a two-week coma, the entire right side of her body was paralyzed. She had to relearn how to hold up her head, walk, talk, swallow, use the toilet and write. “I was reverted to infancy,” says the 22-year-old.

Liz immersed herself in therapy, spending eight weeks in a rehab hospital. Amazingly, she was able to walk out of the facility and return to high school in the fall only a month behind and, for the first time, became an “A” student. “I think I came to the realization that I better work hard and get things done,” she says. This May, Liz graduates from UF with a bachelor’s in communication sciences and disorders having only earned one B+ her entire four years of college. She has been admitted into the university’s MA program in speech language pathology and plans to work with patients with brain injuries.

“I have experienced the power of speech therapy and what it can do, so I really empathize with the people I am going to serve,” she says. Liz has accepted a graduate assistantship through her department, as well as a position as a speech language assistant at Tacachale in Gainesville, the oldest and largest community for the developmentally disabled in Florida.

As an undergraduate, Liz has worked as a research assistant in the lab of Lori Altmann, an assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders. She is a member of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, where she met her boyfriend of nearly four years, Eric McKinney, a 2002 UF political science alumnus. She is also a member of Signing Gators, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Golden Key International Honour Society.

“Liz is so special, she has worked so hard,” says her mother, Beth Splichal. “The hope of every parent of a child with a severe brain injury is for them to have independence, but every story doesn’t turn out this way. It’s just remarkable. She’s my miracle child. I am so proud of her.”

Liz believes she was spared for a reason, and plans to spend the rest of her life serving others. “After all that happened, it took me years to get to where I’m at now,” she says. “It is just such a blessing I am even walking and able to go to college.”

Credits

Writer

Buffy Lockette

Photos

Jane Dominguez

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