Dateline   |  March 10, 2014

Twist of Fate, part 6

Out of tragedy comes hope, as Andrea Vellinga emerges from her coma and embarks down the long road to recovery.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> it was nine days after the collapse at the state fair when andrea valinga suddenly coughed tie doctor said, that's a good thing. she's having a normal, you know, reflex there.

>> and the next day, andrea did something even more remarkable. she briefly opened her eyes.

>> so thankful that we could see those eyes again. we knew things were going to start functioning again.

>> it was a hopeful sign but as her husband and young daughter kept vigil, andrea was still technically in a coma.

>> the waking up from a key ma is a long, difficult process. she was very stressed, a lot of flailing of her arms and legs. and you don't know if she's in pain. and we knew if she could start communicating then we would know, you know, what hurts.

>> reaching that milestone would take nearly a month with the help of a dry erase board.

>> the first thing we asked her, when's your daughter's name? she wrote, liddy.

>> that spoke volumes about her memory.

>> it did.

>> and how her brain was working?

>> yes, it did. that was such a hopeful, such a hopeful sign at that point.

>> andrea was out of danger. she would survive. but once so active and athletic, the former volleyball player now had to relearn how to talk, how to walk and regain her fine motor skills .

>> you know, it was just so not andrea . you know? you knew andrea wanted to be doing all that, that you could tell she did everything everybody ask of her.

>> throughout her rehab to protect the hole of her skull, she wore a helmet.

>> she wanted to start feeling normal but wearing the helmet is hard to feel normal.

>> but andrea stuck to it. and after nine months of rehab and various hospitals from indiana to michigan, she was finally able to come home.

>> was miraculous, really, the way your brain can reconnect and heal itself and relearn.

>> but to truly understand just how miraculous andrea 's recovery has been, you have to see for yourself.

>> pretty darn good.

>> thanks. and i mean, you couldn't have paid me to have hair this short before but gosh it's easy.

>> everyone talks about your radiant smile. and it's still here. has it been hard to smile throughout all of this?

>> there's definitely times where i'm not smiling but i mean, more times i smile.

>> more than two years after the collapse that nearly killed her, andrea knows how lucky she is to be alive.

>> that's why i cry so much easier than i used to but it's because i'm just very happy and cherish so i want to cry right now and i'm very happy to be here right now. because i know i might not have been.

>> she's still a work in progress with limited use of her left arm and hand, she is learning new ways to do every day tasks.

>> i can tie my shoes with one hand because this arm, my left arm is still -- i mean, i'm just thankful that i can move it, really.

>> andrea and her family credit much of her incredible recovery to two things. a clinical drug trial she was a part of and the fact that she was in peak physical condition at the time she was hurt.

>> i was in training for the first indianapolis all-women's half marathon when this accident happened. i mean, it's what's helped me recover being in good shape.

>> she was able to take that helmet off for the last time a year and a half after the accident but she didn't throw it away. what does it make you think when you see that helmet?

>> to be reminded of where i was and where i am. totally different. i mean, i know i'm going to have to deal with this the rest of my life. just be very thankful for where i am.

>> jordan is thankful, too. her mom and sister recovered from their injuries. but it's bittersweet because of the one that didn't come home with them. mu began toothman.

>> i miss you so much. she was really nice and i wish she could still be here so i could tell her all these things that i accomplished.

>> megan's memory carries on through a foundation her parents created in her honor that grants scholarships to high school and college students who possess megan's spirit and desire to give back.

>> and that's her legacy. is to make sure that we're helping as many kids as we can in her name.

>> did you ever feel like, why us?

>> no. you know what? i never said, why us? i always considered us lucky even considering maggie's injuries and mine. we were very lucky.

>> laura feels lucky because her daughter maggie has made a complete recovery from her life-threatening arm injury.

>> other than the scars, if you look at her she looks like a normal 5-year-old girl.

>> and she did to us when we met her.

>> how excited were you the day of the concert to see sugarland?

>> i was excited. i standed there almost all day waiting but i had pretty much fun.

>> i hear that you're pretty brave.

>> i was pretty brave. braver than i ever imagined. it feels pretty good.

>> the main question that remains from that awful night is why the structure collapsed so completely. a state commission investigation performed by an independent company determined that the structure had a faulty design, was improperly constructed and was never inspected. nevertheless, indiana state code at the time did not regulate such structures. also, some questioned if the concert should have been canceled and the audience evacuated when the storm was threatening. several lawsuits have been filed to sort it out, including one against the band sugarland which denies any responsibility. the state of indiana without admitting liability has paid out $11 million in settlements to the victims and their families. is there a silver lining in this?

>> yes. five of us went. five of us came home and we have an all group of new friends.

>> among them, some of the men and women who came together to help save that little girl in the pink tutu. it was one of many heroic rescues that terrible night where first responders and so many regular people thrust suddenly into a crisis worked together to save the lives of people they'd never met.

>> i like to say there's something special about heeziers. they stick together and that's a great example of that.

>> at the state fairgrounds, that hoosier spirit carries on and while the lives lost will always be remembered, survivors strive to move forward.

>> i'm very blessed to be alive. that's what i -- even am thankful for bad days i have because any days at this point are good days.