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Friends, family join wreck survivor on Christmas Eve to rehab soul

Dec. 24, 2009 at 6:24 a.m.

Chad Ganaway and Chelsea Akin earlier this year. Akin was seriously injured in a car wreck last month, which caused brain injuries. The 25-year-old's memory has been impaired.

Chelsea Akin's face lit up when Santa Claus waltzed into her Warm Springs Rehabilitation System room on Christmas Eve.

Akin exuded the happiness of a youngster. But she's not a little girl.

The 25-year-old was in a wreck with her fiancé, Chad Ganaway, on Nov. 28. Akin now receives rehabilitation for brain and physical injuries.

Friends and family held the Thursday morning surprise to celebrate Akin's life. They gave her presents and organized a surprise visit from the Victoria Mall Santa Claus.

"We're just trying to cheer her up during the holidays," said friend Dianna Arnold, owner of Paradise Tans and manager of Santa Plus at the mall. "She's come a long way, but she's still got a long way to go."

Akin received a blanket with printed rubber ducks, lotions and shampoos.

Arnold saw Akin only a few times at her tanning salon in recent years. Arnold wanted to see how one of her customers is doing, she said.

Ganaway and Akin drove in rural West Texas last month when their Honda Civic struck a cow that stood in their lane of the roadway. Ganaway broke his arm during the wreck. Akin's injuries left her unconscious. Responders flew her to Medical Center Hospital in Odessa. She was in critical condition.

She drastically improved since, her fiancé said.

"Compared to where we were, it's amazing the progress she's making," Ganaway said.

Despite the progress, Akin tried to read a greeting card given to her Thursday, but she was unable to. Ganaway pointed to the Santa Claus on the card. He asked her to name the Christmas icon. Akin, however, replied, "Mom."

Akin can communicate, but she still struggles to remember people and to apply reason.

Everyday, Ganaway updates her status on his Facebook page to alert friends and family to minor changes in Akin's condition. Facebook is a popular online social networking tool.

One status update noted Akin walked one day; another that she remembered and said her fiancé's name.

"The Lord is moving and we're very grateful the miracles we're seeing on a daily basis with her," Ganaway said.

The couple were set to wed on March 13. Ganaway instead decided to leave the special date in God's hands, he said.

For now, Ganaway simply spends a few hours each day with his future wife.

Akin's room, Room 203, is adorned with bright flower bouquets and a banner: "We love you," it reads. On Thursday, another friend visited that bright room. Carla Nolen is Akin's best friend of seven years.

Nolen carried a present and the hope that Akin would once again speak her name correctly. Akin did this day.

"She's always been there for me so it's my turn to return the favor," Nolen said.



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