At the age of 54, Dana Papaj is learning how to live her life all over again.
“Everyday I wake up depressed, because I think that I dreamt this whole thing, but I didn't,” Papaj told 7 Eyewitness News.
We sat down with Dana almost a year after the tragic hit-and-run accident on Grand Island, that left her in a coma for months. She’s now dealing with the insurmountable task of learning how to live her life, all over again.
“I’m really lucky because I’m getting through it,” said Dana at her Grand Island home. “If it weren't for my husband and children, I probably wouldn't.”
Papaj doesn't’t walk the road to recovery alone. Her husband Don and her two daughters are by her side every step of the way.
“It’s as good as it can be. We’re working real hard. Dana’s been getting better…we live it everyday,” Don Papaj, Dana’s husband said. “When I look back two months and see where she’s come it’s incredible.”
Incredible is an understatement. We last saw Dana in a video obtained by 7 Eyewitness News just months after the hit-and-run that almost killed her, struggling to remember months, dates, and names. Doctor’s tell Dana’s family the blow to her head was 20-30 times as strong as a career ending blow to a football player or boxer.
“If you ask me certain things, I forget. I forgot that my mother died. She died five years ago,” Dana said. “I asked everyone why mom hasn’t called me…they told me mom is gone.”
Dana works with Doctors two to three times a week. One of the biggest hurdles for her is her eyesight. She has severe optical nerve damage, and can hardly see.
It’s the right hand and side Dana has had to train, to do everyday tasks like tie her shoes.
Through the obstacles, her biggest passion, painting and drawing hasn’t been lost.
“Everything I do is a little work,” she said. “People are amazed that I can even write or draw, and I personally don’t think my drawings have come out that good but people have thought they’re beautiful.”
“The amount of stuff she’s had to learn and keep learning is astronomical,” Don Papaj said.
It may take her extra time, but it’s time spent with her family. It’s that time they feared they’d never have again.
“I’m really lucky because if I didn’t have them I probably wouldn't be alive,” she said.
With every step toward recovery, Dana has this message for those who have followed her journey.
“If someone is walking funny, or talking funny, it’s because maybe there’s something wrong with them. Don’t judge. If you haven’t walked in their shoes, don’t judge.”