Local News

Tuesday, Jan 01 2013 08:00 PM

Family celebrates one year of recovery for daughter hit by car

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Angeleigh Kumpel at home with her parents Fred and Stephanie.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Angeleigh Kumpel, left, and her motherm Stephanie. Angeleigh is recovering from a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a car last year.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Angeleigh Kumpel is recovering from a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a car last year.

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BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer rcook@bakersfield.com

One year ago this week, 16-year-old Angeleigh Kumpel was in a coma at Kern Medical Center suffering from a traumatic brain injury, her left leg and pelvis broken after she was struck by a vehicle.

Today, Angeleigh is a straight-A student who can laugh with her parents, do her homework, and share text messages with the driver who hit her.

"(My family has) shown me pictures and told me about where I was on January 3rd when they came and saw me at the hospital and it's just like, 'That's me? That was me?'" Angeleigh said in disbelief on Monday.

"Sometimes I forget that I have come this far from being a comatose thing on a bed to back at school playing clarinet, back at dance, learning to run."

Angeleigh had snuck out and was walking home when she was hit on Panama Lane near Akers Road early last year. Police later said they were not able to identify who was at fault in the collision.

Angeleigh spent more than a month in the hospital and underwent several surgeries. After Angeleigh awoke, she slowly recovered with her parents' constant care and myriad medical professionals.

When The Californian visited with Angeleigh and her parents in March, she was still unable to speak much, her face often expressionless. She was just starting to feed herself with utensils on her own and could take a few steps with a walker.

By June, Angeleigh was dancing on stage again and could tell the story of her recovery herself.

Her recovery continued. She returned to school at Ridgeview High School in August and hasn't had to cut a single school day short for any reason besides her appointments, her family said. The junior has a special plan so she could go home if she needed, "but I'm stubborn so I wouldn't wanna come home anyway," Angeleigh said.

"She's worked hard every day, every single day," said Fred Kumpel, 53, Angeleigh's father.

But the social side of returning to school has been rockier. Angeleigh said she went from having "a fair amount" of friends to one, although she still has friends through dance.

"Things have changed because no one is ever going to completely understand what I went through and am still going through and that I am still healing so I'm not going to be the exact same person I was before," she said.

Fred said it's probably awkward for the other students, as well.

"We'll see if with the passage of time things, I don't know, settle down or something like that," he said.

The Kumpels haven't been inclined to dwell on the negative. On Thursday, the one-year anniversary of the crash, they are hosting a celebration of Angeleigh's recovery at American Sound Recording Studios, where people will be able to record their memories of her journey.

The family invited everyone who helped them along the way, including teachers, therapists, doctors and friends, Angeleigh said. Fred and Angeleigh's mother, Stephanie Kumpel, 54, said the party is an opportunity for people and health care providers who have only seen Angeleigh when she was down and out to see her recovering now. Fred said they are mulling other ideas, such as starting a support group or a scholarship fund for Angeleigh and other people with similar injuries.

"The main thing is to say, 'Thank you.' We've been fortunate because she's doing very well," Fred said.

The celebration won't end Thursday. Later this month, Angeleigh and her mother will take part in a 5K at Disneyland with friends. They are planning a tutu making party before the run and they've invited Teresa Randel, 37, the driver who hit Angeleigh, and her family to join them, Stephanie said.

Just a few days after the crash, the Kumpels stressed that they didn't blame Randel but rather thanked her for calling for help after the impact. On Monday, the Kumpels said they continue to keep up with Randel and her family. Angeleigh said sometimes she and Randel text each other and Randel messages her to inquire about Angeleigh's upcoming dance and clarinet performances. She came to a football game to see Angeleigh play her instrument, Stephanie said.

"She's a great person and it's just a bad coinkydink that I just happened to be right there in front of her car," Angeleigh said.

Fred said the relationship is part of the healing process for Randel as well as their family. People often ask him if drunken driving was to blame when he mentions the accident, but Fred said that's not the case.

"Stupid teenager," Angeleigh said, raising her hand.

In the long haul, Angeleigh plans to graduate from high school on time and study science in college with the goal of becoming a pediatrician.

For the new year, Angeleigh wants to keep healing and avoid acting like "a stupid teenager." The experience of the last year has taught her how to gauge if people are genuine, how to make good choices and that lying "really does nothing for you," she said.

"What happened was weird and crazy but it's just really amazing when you've gone through it, how much you learn from it," she said.

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