- Associated Press - Friday, May 27, 2016

TAYLOR, Utah (AP) - Her family’s two pet dogs zoomed around the living room, their paws drumming on the carpet as Brynnli Cherry cradled a kitten named Luna and explained her growing command of writing in Braille and doing math with an abacus.

Seated cross-legged on the floor and leaning over her Braille writer, she listed other marks of progress, peppering her comments with occasional pre-teen sarcasm, the Standard-Examiner reported (http://bit.ly/1OLmR9M).

“I’m learning to do stupid things like the cane,” the 12-year-old Rocky Mountain Junior High School student said.

Watching Brynnli now moving resolutely through life like a typical kid seemed to be an unimaginable prospect one year ago. She was in a coma at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, her face crushed, her sight ruined and her brain gripped by a severe concussion.

A drunken driver blew through a stop sign the night of May 2, 2015 in Hooper, slamming into an SUV carrying eight people, including Brynnli. Paramedics revived her at the scene and doctors spent the next few days just keeping her alive.

Her parents borrowed a trailer and parked it near the hospital, making it their temporary home. The South Ogden girl, who went to Uintah Elementary School, was in a coma for four months. Once she regained consciousness, she endured a six-month battle against a fungal infection that slowed efforts to rebuild the damage caused in the crash.

She has undergone 10 reconstructive surgeries and faces perhaps 10 more, her parents said. She still has an embedded feeding tube, but is now able to eat normally.

“We are adjusting. It has been a hard year, but to see her attitude and getting on with her life, it has been amazing,” said Eric Conley, her stepfather. “That just makes everything easier.”

Kerri Conley, Brynnli’s mom, spoke about her daughter’s progress, occasionally pausing to redirect the playful dogs’ energy or enlist the help of Brynnli’s younger brother, Kooper, 10.

“We’re just moving forward,” she said. “We’ve kind of gotten back to normal.”

For example, Brynnli has an upcoming appointment for work on her braces.

“It’s not normal,” Brynnli objected. “I have to go all the way to Salt Lake.”

“It’s calmed down a lot,” Kerri Conley added.

The family last year moved out to Taylor in rural western Weber County and Brynnli went to school at Rocky Mountain. She recently was elected as the school’s honors officer, and her stepfather said she’s pulling down a 4.0 grade average.

“School needs to be over,” Brynnli said, prompting her mom to say, “Brynn is still in there. She still has her personality.”

Brynnli yearns for longer hair. With all the surgeries, she’s had her head shaved repeatedly. She wears a billed cap all the time because some people have mistaken her for a boy.

“She hates the hats,” Kerri Conley said. “People kept saying, ‘what’s wrong with your son?’ After a few times, that was enough of that. So she wears hats.”

Both parents said Brynnli’s attitude is steely, enthusiastic and optimistic.

Eric Conley, watching Brynnli get down from the backyard trampoline and walk up to the deck and into the house without assistance, said, “She’s spitting fire. She’s very independent, even though she can’t see. She’s the center of attention everywhere and she doesn’t back down from anything.”

In the house, watching Brynnli use her Braille writer, her mom said, “She thinks she’s a smarty pants because no one can see what she’s reading or writing.”

Brynnli’s also learning to play piano “the blind way.” As she did in describing her experience with mastering contractions in Braille, she explained the challenge of the different keying system used by the blind to play piano.

The Conleys rattled off a series of complications Brynnli has suffered and procedures she still must endure.

She recently got a new nose bone, but she has no cartilage in one nostril and must use gauze there. She had spinal fluid leaking out of her forehead at one point, and in an upcoming surgery, doctors will break her jaw to enable realignment of her cheekbone.

“They need to get the foundation first, then take care of the rest,” Kerri Conley said, meaning the goal of restoring Brynnli’s face to an approximation of what it used to be.

“We wonder what’s in store for us,” Kerri Conley said. “She still looks forward to boys,” to which Brynnli uttered a sound of disgust.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Kerri Conley said. “But we try to look at the big picture. We still have her. We are able to see her move. She is not lifeless,” like she was at the crash scene.

Brynnli told the story of how she changed favorite colors. Before the crash, she preferred blue and green. But after she came out of the coma, she decided she liked yellow.

“Yellow is a happy color,” she said. “Blue or green are more sad.”

Brynnli recently spoke at a National Federation of the Blind conference in Provo. Eric Conley said after her speech, a woman walked up and handed Brynnli a $100 bill, telling her to take her parents to dinner.

“She’s got the best kind of personality for this,” Eric Conley said. “I think she’s got a bright future and there may be something special in store for her. She needs to be out talking about this, the blindness and DUI awareness.”

The Conleys said their other children have been great sources of support for Brynnli, and the traumatic experiences have brought the family closer. Of course, “they still fight like brothers and sisters do,” Eric Conley said.

Kooper teased Brynnli, asking her, “Why are you always in the hospital on your birthday?”

Brynnli’s 13th birthday is June 8, a few days after her next surgery.

“This year I can actually celebrate my birthday,” Brynnli said. “I’ll just be swollen.”

Last year, the family sang to her at her hospital bedside as she lay in a coma.

___

Information from: Standard-Examiner, http://www.standard.net

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