More than two months after the car crash that changed Ashley Crouse’s life and after weeks of rehab, the Iowa teen traded in the walls of the hospital for a sand volleyball court.
She visited last week with two Husker volleyball players, got a behind-the-scenes tour of where the team trains and caught part of a beach volleyball practice.
Crouse, 19, suffered a punctured lung, blood clots, a traumatic brain injury and a series of other complications following a car crash in January near her hometown of Red Oak, Iowa. She’s spent the past two months recovering at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln. Crouse is still working on her wobbly walk, the way she speaks and her shaky left side.
Along with her twin sister, Carly, and mom, Dana, she toured the Huskers’ training facility in the Devaney Center. Players Annika Albrecht and Mikaela Foecke led the tour.
“Both (of my) girls were totally blown away,” said mom Dana Crouse. “This was kind of like a reward. They wanted Ashley to know she’s doing great.”
Despite growing up as daughters of a Hawkeye fan, the girls became avid Husker volleyball fans. They’ve followed the Husker team and attended games in Lincoln. They were especially fond of the team’s twins, Amber and Kadie Rolfzen.
Before the crash, Ashley Crouse was on her way to a friend’s house. As she attempted to cross the highway at an intersection, the passenger side of her vehicle was struck by a semitrailer truck. It sent her car flying across the highway before it came to rest in a ditch.
A passerby crawled through what was left of Crouse’s rear window and helped keep her alive until emergency crews arrived. She was flown to the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
Thinking about that night is still hard for her mom.
“It was something you never want to hear as a parent,” she said while choking back tears. “I’ve never felt any experience like it, and I never want to feel anything like it again.”
Crouse was in a coma for about two weeks before being transferred to Madonna.
Because of the brain injury, Crouse was unable to move the left side of her body. Staff helped her learn to move her fingers, to swallow and eventually to walk.
“I feel like they’ve worked miracles on her,” Dana Crouse said.
Part of Ashley Crouse’s therapy included volleyball , a sport she has loved since grade school. She would practice serving and volleying balls to her sister, who also played the sport.
Crouse’s physical therapist saw her interest in the sport and organized the visit with Husker players.
All Foecke knew going in was that the teen she was meeting with had a brain injury . But Foecke said after the meeting that she never would have guessed what Crouse had been through.
“Hearing her story and seeing where she is today is super uplifting,” Foecke said.
It’s important for the team to give back to the community, Foecke added. The two Huskers squeezed in Crouse’s tour on Tuesday before the team left for a beach volleyball tournament in Hawaii.
“I really enjoy being able to uplift others and bring joy to them where maybe they’ve lost it before,” Foecke said. “It’s fun seeing the smile on their faces that seeing where we train every day brings them.”
Crouse went home Friday. She’ll undergo outpatient therapy to improve her wobbly walking. She looks a bit like Frankenstein’s monster, her mother said. Her left hand is still a bit shaky, and it will take awhile for her to regain complex problem-solving and organizational skills.
Crouse had plans to start nursing school earlier this year, but they were put on hold following the crash.
“I’m going to be a nurse some day,” Crouse said. “It makes me want to work at a place kind of like Madonna. They’ve all been really nice and helpful.”
Her mom said the Madonna staff, the Huskers and the community of Red Oak showed their family how good people are.
“We’re taking away all the positives and not going to focus on the negatives,” she said. “We’re so blessed and so thankful she’s here and doing this well. It probably shouldn’t have went this way.”