RIT Graduate Continues Remarkable Recovery from Accident Injuries

Follow RITNEWS on Twitter One recent afternoon she played piano. Other times she does schoolwork and visits with family and friends—all rather routine activities for a 22-year-old college student. But for Leah Van Valkenburg they were far from certainties only eight months ago.

Leah was critically injured in an automobile accident in April, just a month before she was to graduate from Rochester Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition management. But the strong-willed honors student and athlete was able to attend RIT graduation ceremonies and receive her diploma in May, only five weeks after the accident.

Today, following months of rehabilitation and hospitalization, which included three weeks in a coma, Leah’s recovery has been nothing short of a miracle, say some close to her. After leaving the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Leah underwent a month of occupational, speech and physical therapy at St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Utica, near her home in Frankfort, N.Y. She’s received home therapy since her release from St. Elizabeth in early September.

Physically Leah has recovered well from injuries that included head trauma and a bruised lung. She says her long-term memory is excellent but she has some difficulty with short-term memory.

"I still have a way to go," Leah says, adding that doctors are optimistic about her continued improvement since cases they typically see are terminal. "They’re really surprised at how well I’ve been doing," she says.

This fall, Leah took two courses at Herkimer County Community College to work on improving her memory and refreshing her nutrition management skills. After a required one-year internship that she expects to begin next fall, she’ll be eligible to complete an examination to become a registered dietitian. She’s considering graduate school, possibly to pursue a master’s degree in exercise science.

Sometimes, though, it’s just nice to play the piano.