Stelmach healing after fall

by Karla Kingsley | 11/8/01 6:00am

On the evening of Sunday, Oct. 14, Angelina Stelmach '02 fell 40 feet -- equivalent to a four-story building -- off a cliff on Rattlesnake Mountain. Now, nearly one month later, she is "feeling fine."

Stelmach was not actually rock climbing on the day of her fall, but was with others who were. She fell when she walked on some wet leaves, which caused her to slip. After sliding a few feet, she fell over the edge of a cliff, hitting trees during her fall and landing wedged between two rocks.

She knows this only from what she has been told. "I remember when I started slipping, but I have no other memory of the fall," said Stelmach.

Stelmach was lucky to be with friends who knew first aid and were able to stabilize her head and neck before carrying her out and bringing her to Plymouth Hospital.

Doctors at the hospital determined that Stelmach had suffered a contusion on the ride side of her brain, some bleeding in the tissues surrounding the brain and a bruised spleen and liver.

Stelmach was transferred to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center that evening and spent five days there. "I was in and out of coma ... sleeping a lot, especially because I was on a lot of pain killers," she said.

Later, Stelmach was transferred to Dick's House, where she continued to recover. While at Dick's House, Stelmach recalls that her balance was still a little off, and that she was "paranoid about accidents."

Since the accident, "I have become really sensitive to dangers and safety and more aware of what is going on around me," Stelmach noted.

According to two doctors, Stelmach should be back to 100 percent by January. She is also very positive about her condition. "I feel progress on a day-to-day basis. ... The only effect I still feel is that things take a little longer."

The right frontal lobe, which governs higher-level thinking, judgement and decision making, was the part of her brain that was bruised, according to Stelmach. Over winter break, she plans to do speech therapy and rehab to assure that the healing goes as well as possible.

"I still am getting over the shock," she said.

Friends and family helped speed up her recovery, although it was also hard for them.

Stelmach said she appreciated her family's support. "It was really hard for them ... I was asleep this whole time, but they were the ones that were afraid ... they are really supportive; praying, keeping in touch, finding good doctors in the area."

Stelmach also had many visitors, including deans and professors from the College. "That gave me so much strength," she said.

Currently, Stelmach is back on campus and attending classes. She had one independent study scheduled for fall/winter, which she plans to delay to winter/spring, but in her other two classes she is "just catching up."

Her classes were both a part of her major, French, and fortunately, they are going fine. "I can follow perfectly; [the language] feels the same as before," Stelmach said.

Gradually, everything is returning to normal, but Stelmach's life is still quite busy. "Right now I shuttle between here on campus, home [Greenwich, Conn.] and the hospital."