This year has been a weird one for most of us, but for 17-year-old Sarah Frei from Syracuse, Utah, it’s been life-changing.
Since then, Frei — a high school senior and cheerleader — has gone through 20 surgeries. She has a T11 spinal injury, had to have her legs amputated, and will likely use a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
But she’s resilient and her can-do attitude has dazzled her family as well as the doctors and staff she’s worked with.
“We really are just in awe of her,” the teen’s mother, Amy Frei, told Good Morning America. “The first time she was able to sit up and she could actually see and feel her legs, there were no tears. The first thing she said was, ‘They did a good job.'”
“It was just beautiful. She has stayed positive and held us through it and, almost in a way, made it easier on us.”
“She made our job very easy because she wanted to work very hard every day,” Dr. Venessa Lee added. “We would try to give her permission to complain or to say it’s OK to have a bad day or be grumpy, and she never complained.”
“Every time she chose to ask, ‘What’s next?’ There were multiple times that we had to go in and break bad news … and she would look at us with a smile and say, ‘Well what do we do about it?'”
On Oct. 14, Frei finally got to go home after her four-week stay at Craig H. Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital. She was surprised by a massive send-off from the hospital as well as a “welcome home” parade that even included a police escort.
“I didn’t realize how big it could be,” Sarah Frei said of the welcome crew. “Once we’d pass [people], they’d join in behind, holding signs.”
There was something else Frei wanted: to rejoin her cheerleading squad for her school’s last home football game of the year. It was something that had never been guaranteed, but now that she was home again, she was able to go to the game.
“I think that was probably the one thing she was looking forward to the most, just hoping that she would be able to go to that game and have that experience her senior year, the last football game,” Amy Frei said.
“The timing of her coming home that Tuesday and the game being that Wednesday, it was pretty amazing that she felt good and was able to do it.”
A video shared on Sarah Frei’s Facebook wall shows the teen being escorted out onto the field to perform a routine with the other cheerleaders as an announcer welcomes her back and the crowd cheers and claps. It’s a moment she waited a long time for, and a moment she will remember for a long time.
The journey ahead is a long one, and she has more surgery ahead of her, but with her support team and her high tolerance for ambiguity, she’s set up well for the challenges still to come.
“We are still in awe at the support that Sarah has received from friends, family, neighbors and strangers!” a post on her page from Oct. 21 reads. “The parade for Sarah just over a week ago is something we will never, ever forget.
“We are grateful for your love and prayers for Sarah’s continued recovery. We still have a long road ahead of us! But these moments are so meaningful and help make everything better.”
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