Teen crash victim heads home from rehab

Published: April 5, 2004
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Samantha Bitterman, a Churchville-Chili High School senior severely injured in a car crash in October, left a Chicago Rehabilitation hospital today and returned to her Buffalo Road home here.

An Air International medic jet whisked her from Chicago to the Greater Rochester International Airport. She landed at 2:30 p.m.

“I am just grateful. We are so grateful that we have her and she’s alive,” said her mother, Sheila Brennan. “We are so proud of her. I’m just so happy to have my daughter back home.”

Samantha, 18, was trapped — and undiscovered — in her car for nearly 10 hours with a broken neck and a bruised spinal column after an unknown driver ran a stop sign.

Samantha, trying to avoid the car, swerved out of control, downed a telephone pole and overturned three times. Her car was found in a ditch off Route 36 near North Road in Wheatland.

“It was horrible what happened to her. She didn’t even have her license three weeks,” Brennan said. “She remembers the whole accident. She remembers laying there the whole night wondering why the cars weren’t stopping.”

Samantha has use of her arms but no control of her hands or her body from the chest down. It is unknown how much motion she will regain.

“She’s 18 years old. You never know what a young person’s body is going to do. They have found in some cases — they don’t know how — but the brain rewires the spinal cord.”

While in Chicago, Samantha became friends with Anthony Salmon, the Wilson Magnet High School football player who was rehabilitating at the same hospital after suffering a severe spinal cord injury. He returned to his Rochester home last week.

“Right now, she is very, very nervous about coming home because Samantha is very afraid of not being accepted in the community,” her mother said.

“She is also afraid her little brother will be picked on because she’s in a wheelchair. Most people don’t realize that just because she’s in a wheelchair it doesn’t mean she has mental disabilities. She’s all there. She’s a spitfire.”

Before the accident Samantha’s goals were to attend college, study law and marine biology, and swim and care for dolphins.

Samantha’s education will continue. She will be home-tutored, and she has requested to attend classes at Churchville-Chili two days a week so she can see her friends.

Adjustments, such as a chair lift leading from the lower to upper floor, have been made to the home. A hospital bed and wheelchair sit in the family recreation room, which has been converted into Samantha’s bedroom.

What the family needs help with most now is a passenger van with a side sliding door and a mechanical lift so Samantha can be transported.

“The best way to keep her alive emotionally is to get her out and about,” Brennan said.

Like most 18-year-olds, Samantha likes to visit shopping malls. Brennan said that’s not likely to stop.