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Shayna Monson recovering slowly after June crash

OMAHA, Neb. -- It hasn't felt like Christmas at Connie Monson's home. Normally in December, she enjoys watching TV in the evenings with the family tree in her periphery. Lights illuminate ornaments dating back to her kids' infancy. "I haven't bee...

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Jordan Adolf, left, visited friend Shayna Monson at Quality Living, Inc. earlier this month. Monson is rehabilitating at the Nebraska facility from a traumatic brain injury sustained in June when an alleged drunk driver hit her vehicle in Mandan.

OMAHA, Neb. -- It hasn't felt like Christmas at Connie Monson's home.

Normally in December, she enjoys watching TV in the evenings with the family tree in her periphery. Lights illuminate ornaments dating back to her kids' infancy.

"I haven't been able to get myself to do that this year," she said.

The Christmas tree remains in the basement of her Dickinson house while her daughter spends the holiday season 700 miles away recuperating from a traumatic brain injury.

Six months have passed since Monson rushed to the hospital worried her daughter, Shayna, would die after an alleged drunken driver hit her vehicle in Mandan. The head-on collision killed Abby Renschler and Taylor Goven - friends of Shayna Monson and passengers in her car.

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"We were told she would probably not live past the first 48 hours and, if she did, she would be a vegetable the rest of her life," Connie Monson said.

Shayna Monson, 21, proved that initial prognosis wrong. Today she is recovering, albeit slowly, at a rehabilitation facility in Omaha, Neb.

Her mother earlier this week planned to make a road trip with her other daughter, Kari, to spend Christmas in Omaha as a family.

Together, the three will bake cookies, watch movies and decorate a small tree with a few of their ornaments. They also plan to attend a Christmas program at the church of one of the rehabilitation facility staffers.

The day after Christmas will be low-key before Connie and Kari Monson return to Dickinson on Sunday.

"We want to let her rest up," Connie Monson said.

Shayna Monson moved from a Denver recovery facility in November to Omaha's Quality Living, Inc., which specializes in rehabilitation from brain and spinal cord injuries.

QLI is set up like a college campus, and Shayna Monson lives in a house with room for at least seven other residents.

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She spends six hours each day in physical, occupational and speech therapy.

It can be exhausting, according to her mother, but it's paying off.

Shayna Monson can now walk with another person holding her. She can speak, too, though her words come out slow and slurred.

"It's still not perfect, but at least we can talk with her," said her dad, Harlan Monson. "To me, those are major improvements."

Though her parents told her she was in a car crash, she cannot remember it. The incident occurred in June and has affected her memory as far back as January.

It's unclear exactly how she sustained her brain injury, but Connie Monson said a seat belt and airbag seemed to have abruptly stopped Shayna Monson's body from moving while her brain continued forward. The injury is similar to shaken baby syndrome.

Connie Monson calls her daughter every day when she gets off work, but Shayna Monson has trouble recalling what she accomplished in therapy earlier that day.

She cannot remember a spring trip to San Diego. And she does not recall fulfilling a lifelong dream to tour London a month before the crash.

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So Connie Monson is working on a photo album documenting those key events and others.

"I'm hoping some of these pictures will jog some memories in her mind," she said.

A doctor told the parents, who are divorced, that it will take at least two years to know how much she will recover. Connie Monson said she hopes to eventually bring her home.

"I know she wants to get back to school," Harlan Monson said. "She keeps talking about it."

As a junior at the University of North Dakota, Shayna Monson is a straight-A, pre-med student. She wants to be an anesthesiologist.

"I was very proud of her," Harlan Monson said. "To have that disrupted and quite possibly taken away from her is heartbreaking."

He plans to spend New Year's with Shayna Monson in Omaha. He will stay there for several days in January to accompany his daughter through a procedure to improve movement in her right hand.

Connie Monson said she wants to convey a message about drunken driving.

The June crash changed the lives of not only her family members, but those of Renschler, Goven and Jordan Morsette, who allegedly caused the collision while driving drunk. He awaits a trial scheduled for April.

"Four families have been destroyed," Connie Monson said. "It's just not worth it to be drinking and driving."

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Shayna Monson

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