BELLEVILLE (AP) — Sixteen-year-old Megan Webb takes unsteady steps in the physical therapy room at Ranken Jordan, a pediatric specialty hospital in Maryland Heights, Mo.
The Belleville West teen is recovering from a traumatic brain injury, which she suffered during a car crash that left her friend dead earlier this year.
With her physical therapist Melissa Rentfrow following closely behind, Megan walked unassisted up and down a hallway at Ranken Jordan during a recent therapy session. She wears an orthopedic brace to stabilize her left leg and uses a cane as needed.
At times, Rentfrow holds onto a fabric belt with handles around Megan's waist. Rentfrow said it's a gait belt used to help stabilize individuals with balance issues. Rentfrow also wrapped a long strip of white fabric around Megan's left leg.
"It helps stabilize her leg and keeps her left toes from going in," her mother, Tracy Webb, explained.
Walking is just the warm-up for Megan.
She then moves on to the Total Gym machine to work on strengthening her left leg. Rentfrow said the brain injury affected Megan's left side more. Next, Megan walks on a treadmill and then maneuvers up and down stairs.
In addition, Rentfrow shows Megan, a varsity volleyball standout, and her mother stretching exercises she can do at home.
No matter what "crazy" exercises Rentfrow comes up with, she said Megan never complains.
Prior to her physical therapy session, Megan practiced counting money and making the correct change during an occupational therapy session.
Megan is currently in the day treatment program at Ranken Jordan. For six hours every weekday, Megan does speech, occupational and physical therapies as well as homebound schoolwork.
"It's definitely all worth it," Tracy said. "We'll do whatever it takes."
Megan recently got Botox injections in her left leg to help relax the muscle and increase her range of motion, Tracy said. Megan has also tested out a WalkAide brace on her left leg, which electrically stimulates it to work as it should, according to Tracy.
Tracy has been by her daughter's side since the crash occurred Jan. 26. Tracy said she had no choice but to give up the new job she secured prior to Megan's accident so she could care for her daughter.
"Another one will come when the time is right," Tracy said.
Megan's friend and the driver of the car, Stephen Zehner, 18, died in the crash. "I'm sad he died. We were pretty close," Megan said. "He's watching (over) us."
Megan doesn't remember anything about the crash. "It's all a blur," she said. "I remember getting in the car and I put on my seat belt, and he didn't."
Megan credits Stephen's girlfriend, Anna Kreeb, with saving her life. "She found me first," Megan said.
Tracy said it was terrible to get that phone call the night of the crash. "It was surreal," she said. "There was no doubt in my mind she was going to be OK."
Stephen's mother, Ginger Zehner-Denton, 39, of Mascoutah, was charged May 15 with unlawful delivery of alcohol, a class 4 felony. According to court records, Zehner-Denton allegedly purchased a six-pack of beer and a pint of whiskey between Jan. 25 and 26 and provided the alcohol to Zehner.
"The death of Stephen Zehner occurred as a result of such delivery," the court records state.
Lt. Scott Weymouth with the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department said he couldn't release Zehner's blood alcohol level because it was evidence in the case. As of Saturday, Zehner-Denton was not in police custody.
Megan's older sister, Marley, teared up when she thought about all the Belleville West student body has been through this year, including the crash involving Stephen and her sister and another crash that killed Jyieasha DeWalt, 17, in March.
"It sucks another group of friends had to go through that," Marley said through tears.
Megan spent three months at St. Louis Children's Hospital recovering from her extensive injuries, which included a brain injury, broken ribs, a hairline fracture to her pelvis and bruised spleen, kidney and lungs. She was released from the hospital April 25.
"I hated it," she said of her lengthy hospital stay.
While in the hospital, Tracy said her daughter was a "perfect patient. She didn't complain once." However, at one point, Megan did "flip off" her physical therapist at children's hospital, Tracy recalled.
Megan spent her first six weeks at the hospital unconscious.
"I wasn't expecting you to be unconscious for a month and a half," Marley told her sister while gathered at the kitchen table of their Belleville home with their mother and grandmother Janet Ellis, of Topeka, Kan.
"She is our miracle child," Ellis said about Megan. Ellis and other members of Megan's extended family frequently travel from Kansas to Belleville to visit Megan.
Megan is participating in a research study at Children's Hospital, Tracy said, and is receiving "really good follow-up care."
Tracy said only minor modifications had to be made to their duplex in Belleville, including adding another rail to the staircase and a seat in the shower.
Megan uses a cane to help navigate stairs and to walk long distances. She also wears a leg brace, which requires her to wear different shoes. Tracy explained Megan's muscle tone is low in her left ankle.
Megan's once long brown hair is now short as a result of two brain surgeries. Megan said she misses her hair. As a tribute to her daughter, Tracy cut her hair short, but Megan wouldn't let Marley cut her hair.
"I offered to cut my hair, too, but she refused because of prom," Marley said.
Megan's voice is hoarse at times, and she can't yell because of the tubes that were down her throat during her hospital stay.
"That will get better," Tracy reassured her daughter.
To help with her recovery, Megan takes a slew of pills every day including three prescriptions and a regimen of vitamins, Tracy said.
Marley said V8 juice was a staple for Megan while she was in the hospital. Now, Megan said her favorite thing to eat is chicken fingers.
Megan's personality has shifted since the crash, according to her family. "She laughs all the time now," Marley said.
"I'm not mean anymore," Megan admitted, noting she appreciates life more.
Megan also started attending church with her mom and sister. They go to Christ Church in Fairview Heights.
Since Megan's accident, the community stepped up, hosting fundraisers for the family including a golf fundraiser that brought in more than $8,000, a bowling fundraiser at Bel-Air Bowl and a pizza fundraiser at Papa Johns.
"I just want to thank everyone," Megan said. She said she didn't know so many people cared about her. "I knew some of them did," she said.
"The support has been really amazing," Tracy said.
Megan praised her mother and sister for their constant love and encouragement.
"I think they love me a lot," she said.
Tracy said she is thankful for the support Megan and her family received from the faculty and families at Central Junior High, Westhaven Elementary and Belleville West High School.
Megan expects her last day at Ranken Jordan will be May 31. Tracy said Megan then will start outpatient therapy services three days a week at Memorial Hospital in Belleville.
"She's shown a lot of progress," during the last several weeks, Tracy said.
Ellis agreed. "She's come a long way with a lot of hard work," Ellis said.
In between therapy days, Megan will go to the YMCA and do therapy at home. Also, a teacher will help Megan with her schoolwork this summer, Tracy said.
In addition to physical challenges, Megan also has some memory issues.
"We're going to have game nights to help with that," Tracy said.
Megan is slowly returning to her active lifestyle. Since being released from the hospital, she went to a Belleville West boys volleyball game, the National Honor Society induction ceremony for her sister, the YMCA and her school's musical production. Megan also got her eyebrows waxed and nails done.
The family is planning a big celebration this summer in honor of Marley's high school graduation and Megan's 16th birthday. Megan spent her birthday, March 25, in the hospital. However, she did venture out of the hospital for the first time for a birthday dinner at the Applebee's connected to St. Louis Children's Hospital.
Marley, who graduated Wednesday from Belleville West, will head to Illinois State University in the fall. She said she's considering majoring in something in the medical field, such as physical therapy. Tracy said she's proud of Marley's ability to graduate with honors despite everything that happened the last few months.
Megan said she doesn't have big plans for the summer. In addition to therapy and homebound schooling, she said she wants to go to a Cardinals game with her sister and a vacation "anywhere." Megan said she just wants to hang out with her friends.
Megan looks forward to having a bonfire, she said, and burning the helmet she had to wear in the hospital when a piece of her skull was removed; the right brace she had to wear; the left brace she wears and the bright blue shoe she must wear to accommodate the brace.
Despite being in a serious car crash, Megan said she has no anxiety about driving.
"I'll be safe when I drive," she assured her mom. Tracy said there is a driving therapy program at Memorial Hospital she wants to look into.
"You've never been afraid of anything in your life," Tracy told Megan.
Megan, who never liked going to school before, said she's excited to go back to Belleville West in the fall. Megan said her goal is to be able to walk unassisted and play volleyball again.
"We take it day by day, that's how we all live now," Tracy said. "We live by the motto, 'stay positive and work hard.'"