Local News

Sunday, Jul 01 2012 12:00 PM

Bakersfield teen dances, relearns skills after being hit by car

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Caitlin Shearer applies Angeleigh Kumpel's makeup before Kumpel performs in Civic Dance Center's Gala 2012 dance recital.

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Angeleigh Kumpel puts on her dance shoes before warming up for her first dance performance since being hit by a car in January.

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Angeleigh Kumpel and her mother, Stephanie Kumpel, look through videos and pictures of Angeleigh's recovery backstage at Harvey Auditorium before Angeleigh performs in her first dance recital since the accident.

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  4. 4 of 7

    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Angeleigh Kumpel jokes around with her father, Fred Kumpel, while running in place to warm up for her performance in her first dance recital since being hit by a car in January.

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  5. 5 of 7

    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Angeleigh Kumpel performs at a dance recital for the first time since being hit by a car in January.

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  6. 6 of 7

    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Angeleigh Kumpel performs in a dance recital.

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  7. 7 of 7

    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Angeleigh Kumpel performs in a dance recital.

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BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer rcook@bakersfield.com

Angeleigh Kumpel took center stage at the Harvey Auditorium on steady legs last month.

A group of dancers parted, leaving Angeleigh alone on the stage as she performed the simple movements of a young dancer, sweeping her arms in the air and carefully moving her head from side to side. The 16-year-old left the stage feeling accomplished.

"I was very excited about it. It felt natural to be back on stage," she said.

Angeleigh's solo came about six months after the teenager was smashed by a car as she crossed Panama Lane in the early morning hours. The crash broke Angeleigh's left leg, fractured her pelvis and left her in a coma with a traumatic brain injury.

After she came out of the coma, Angeleigh was bound to a wheelchair and a bed in her living room, depending on a feeding tube in her stomach for food. It wasn't until several months after the accident that Angeleigh was able to indicate pain in her mouth and four broken teeth were found.

With constant care from her parents, therapy and several surgeries, Angeleigh is regaining her strength. On the Thursday after her big performances, she sat upright on her family's living room couch -- gone is the bed that once dominated the room -- dressed in a green v-neck T-shirt and white shorts.

Her speech was clear as she giggled with her mom and ribbed her father. She spoke and showed more animation than she could several months ago.

"I think it would be nice if everyone realized that I will be completely back 'cause I'm not yet but I will be," she said.

Angeleigh is still showing signs of improvement every day, according to her father, Fred Kumpel. She goes to physical therapy and is using a Wii Fit to exercise, though she says the gadget doesn't "particularly like" her. She practices her clarinet, an instrument she excelled at playing.

This summer, Angeleigh hopes to test out of Algebra II with the help of one of her former teachers. She reads from her history book with her father. Writing is difficult because Angeleigh's once-dominant left hand was weakened by her brain injury but Fred predicts she will become ambidextrous.

Angeleigh's progress is still meet with enthusiasm from her parents.

"And we do little smile celebrations all the time and thumbs up and hurrays," her mother, Stephanie Kumpel, said.

Though she likes to get out of the house and has no trouble riding in cars, Angeleigh feels nervous around them. She is still piecing together some of her memories but she recalls a flash of her accident.

"I remember it being very dark and two bright lights coming toward me and then it just all goes black," she said.

Angeleigh's personality has changed slightly since the crash. She is more candid and talkative. Before the accident she was going through "a strange sort of phase," Angeleigh said, but now she wants to connect more with her family.

"I'm very happy that I have them because they're amazing parents," she said. "For a while, I was a lot to take care of."

The Kumpels said July is a month to push Angeleigh's ability and make decisions about the next step for her. They are mulling when and how she might return to the classroom.

Before the accident, Angeleigh's days were packed with band practice before a full day of classes at Ridgeview High School and then dance lessons afterward. She's got it in her head that she's going to do the same thing again this fall, Stephanie said.

It's a schedule that still makes sense to Angeleigh, but Fred cautioned her that they'll have to find what works for her. Angeleigh doesn't want to be different, even though she knows she is right now.

"I wish it could work that I could just go right back into (my old schedule), but I know it's going to have to be little by little," Angeleigh said.

Fred's not sure how close the family will ever come to its old routine again. He is hoping to get back to his work as an attorney in earnest on Aug. 1 and Stephanie took a couple teaching certification classes recently. Angeleigh is more independent and her doctor appointments are getting farther and farther apart.

Angeleigh gets herself ready each morning. She texts her friends and is anxious to go see a movie in a theater again. She also wants to dance again, to take jazz, hip hop and ballet classes like she did before.

"Because of my accident I'm not in dancing shape anymore but I will get back with that," she said.

She visited a class she once assisted at Civic Dance Center and a teacher invited her to take part a piece named after her.

"It's amazing how brave she is and tenacious, she doesn't let anything keep her down," Stephanie said of her daughter's performances.

"To see Angeleigh alone on the stage it just reminds you how vulnerable she has been but I think still continues to be, but less and less," Stephanie said.

 

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