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Overcoming adversity:" DHS student Amber Braun completes studies, despite paralysis of arms and legs

Press Photo by Linda Sailer Sheila Braun adjusts Amber Braun's graduation cap on May 17 at her home. The Brauns are looking forward to Amber's graduation today at Dickinson High School.

Graduation day may be a stepping stone for most students; but for Dickinson High School senior Amber Braun, the day represents a major achievement.

There was a point in her life when graduation was a remote possibility.

On Oct. 31, 2009, Amber was involved in a vehicle rollover in which a crushed spinal cord caused paralysis of her arms and legs.

After four months of hospitalization and rehabilitation, she returned to high school. With the help of staff and family, she is graduating with a 4.0 grade-point average.

"I don't know how -- I just do it," Braun said from her home.

Amber is the daughter of Bryan and Sheila Braun. She has four brothers, Alan, Patrick, Brandon and Jayden.

"Graduation is a big accomplishment from where she was at," said her mother. "Amber is amazingly positive for everything she has gone through. I'm very impressed."

Braun has no memory of the accident, relying on her mother to tell the story.

She was in Mandan to participate in a freshman volleyball tournament. Five of the girls went for a drive outside of Bismarck, when they met another car on the road.

"Her driver overcorrected the wheel, went into a spin and flipped end over end quite a few times," Sheila said. "The car flew 15 to 20 feet into the air. Amber came out of the car through the sunroof."

One of the girls died in the accident, while the others sustained multiple injuries. It's believed that Amber was wearing her seatbelt.

Amber received a broken nose, concussion, pelvic fracture, collapsed lung and two broken legs. Three vertebrae in her neck were crushed, putting pressure on the spinal cord.

Amber was hospitalized until Dec. 7, when she transferred to Gillette Children's Rehabilitation Hospital in St. Paul, Minn. She returned home Feb. 19, 2010.

Amber's life changed drastically from that point. She was active in volleyball, track and field, student council, Future Business Leaders of America and dance.

She admits missing sports.

"I rocked at the 100-meter dash and long jump," she said. "I was so competitive."

Amber said the greatest loss, however, were the friends who gradually moved forward with their lives.

She went on to make new friends and has a different perspective about life.

"I'm more mature than when I was a freshman," she said. "I feel more respect for adults."

Amber has enough feeling in her left hand to manipulate the electric wheel chair and send text messages.

Her lifeline is an iPad, in which she also plays games and surfs the Internet.

She can feel hot and cold, and tell when someone is touching her legs. She can feel her ribs and knows when it's time to go to the bathroom.

"I believe I'm getting all the feeling back someday, hopefully in the next two years and will get my hands working again," Amber said.

With hope for recovery, Amber moves forward with her life. She studies with the help of paraprofessionals and teachers who give her the notes.

"I'm a visual and audio learner," she said. "When I take a test, they read me the questions and I answer them."

Math is more difficult. She tries to work out the problems in her head and relies on a calculator for the higher numbers.

Amber did homework in Serena Thompson's resource room at DHS.

"Amber is a very happy, optimistic person -- she's constantly working to be as social as she can be -- she is pretty motivated," Thompson said.

Being confined to a wheelchair hasn't prevented Amber from enjoying life. She went on a Close Up trip to Washington, D.C., and attended prom with a friend -- the highlight of her senior year, she said.

While Amber has enough credits to receive her diploma, she plans to return to DHS next fall to take additional courses and explore career fields.

She'd like to pursue a career in pediatrics -- crediting Misty Dschaak, who teaches health careers and medical terminology.

"Amber's condition does not get the best of her," Dschaak said. "I have learned from her and my students have learned from her -- she's not afraid to discuss her injuries to help fellow classmates better understand. She comes to us with a wealth of knowledge from a patient's aspect."

Dschaak described Amber as going above and beyond in her homework.

"She really tries her hardest," Dschaak added. "She went everywhere with the students for job shadowing."

Dschaak joked that Amber still needs to take medical terminology next year to pursue her goals.

"I'm very proud of her and very pleased -- she is always optimistic, she doesn't complain," Dschaak said. "I look forward to having her every day."

Graduation begins at 3 p.m. today in the DHS gymnasium. Following the ceremony, the family is hosting an open house for Amber.

While physicians believe Amber has plateaued in the recovery process, Sheila hopes they will re-evaluate her.

"All we know is Amber should not be able to feel pain from the chest down, but she does now," she said. "Amber has never given up hope, nor will we."