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Wang has a happy homecoming

Theresa Wang arrives back on the Big Island. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

About two dozen friends and colleagues gathered Saturday at Kona International Airport to welcome home Dr. Theresa Wang, who has spent six months on the mainland recovering from a car crash.

Wang’s road to recovery led to three hospitals and rehabilitation centers in three states, but came a happy conclusion Saturday when her husband, David Chen, wheeled her into the arrivals area so she could gently put her feet back down on the Big Island.

Wang suffered a serious head injury and a slew of broken bones Nov. 19 when the car she was driving along Queen Kaahumanu Highway was hit by a vehicle driven by Shakti Stream.

Emergency crews were stunned to find Wang clinging to life in the wreckage and she was flown to The Queens Medical Center on Oahu in critical condition with nearly two dozen fractures to her neck, ribs, legs and arms, and a collapsed lung.

Stream and her passenger, then-boyfriend former University of Hawaii football standout Colt Brennan, also were injured, although not a seriously as Wang.

Still in a wheelchair, Wang, 47, came through the airport doors with a huge smile and a big wave.

“I have been dreaming of this for months. I feel so relieved just to feel the breeze,” she said. “People who have come into my life have made it important for me to come home. Mahalos and alohas.”

Wang said she has missed Hawaii desperately and can’t wait to see her hula sisters dance, dig her toes into the sand, snorkel and sample her favorite Hawaii treat.

“Life is beautiful and especially in Hawaii. The smell of plumeria is so wonderful,” she said. “I want to sleep in my own bed and have some Spam musubi. Some ono grinds.”

Her husband of 16 years said he has racked up about 50,000 air miles visiting his wife at medical facilities in Denver, Colo. and Bakersfield, Calif, and is grateful to be making this return trip with his wife.

“I’m ecstatic to bring her home. It’s a wonderful feeling of relaxation and a huge, huge relief for both of us,” he said. “It’s been a whirlwind. I think I earned United Airlines Platinum status without really wanting to.”

The sign says it all. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Friends gathered with lei and signs to greet the couple.

“It’s very exciting. It’s been eight months and counting,” said Pam McGrath, who works at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel along with Chen. “Their friends at church and at the hotel have been supporting them all along and we’ll continue to do whatever we can.”

Wang said she is still feeling the effects of the many surgeries and still is healing. Her neck and shoulders remain as sore as if she worked out too hard just yesterday and her right ankle still wants to roll, but it is the brain injury that likely has finished her medical career.

“My head is foggy, I call it brain fatigue, my joints are sore,” she said. “Thinking about things doesn’t come as easily as it used to. My brain is different.”

For example, she said she will not be driving, because her reaction times are off.

“I would love to return to medicine. But for the safety of my patients, because I know my brain isn’t functioning as well, I’ll probably have to drop that,” she said. “I think because of my background, I have a lot to offer.”

Medical science doesn’t fully understand brain injuries, Wang said, and not everyone in the field is convinced of the long-term effects or the potential for recovery through extensive, intensive therapy.

“They say it’s unproven. Well, I’m gonna become the proof,” she said. “It’s the silent epidemic. We think the person walks away and that’s fine. But we don’t realize how much the brain has been injured.”

Wang said she will pursue some form of advocacy, counseling, consulting or perhaps research on traumatic brain injuries.

“No-one thought I should live. Even in Denver, the doctors didn’t think I should do so well. There is something bigger I have to do and I hope to give it here in Hawaii,” she said. “With my background I can do research and take more classes like statistics. Yuck! I hated that when I was in training.”

She did admit her medical knowledge probably made her own rehabilitation harder.

“Therapy was harder than medical school,” she said. “And it made therapy harder, because I asked too many questions.”

Wang said she got a start on dealing with brain injury patients at the rehabilitation center.

A friend sent her a box of chocolates for her birthday, but because she had been diagnosed with diabetes, she was warned not to eat them all.

“I told the doctor he did the wrong test and I didn’t have diabetes. They did the right test and I don’t have diabetes,” she said, although she still shared the chocolates with her fellow patients.

One young woman was prone to fits of violence due to her injury and had lashed out at patients and staff.

When Wang offered her a chocolate, “I did the silly little trick I used to do with children where I run my finger down their nose and say ‘got your nose.’ And she didn’t punch me! The nurse said, ‘hey, she likes you.”

Theresa Wang greets the friends she hasn't seen in nearly nine months. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Wang said she has no recollection of the crash and is happy about that.

“I don’t really want to have it,” she said. “Everything is like a dream.”

Chen also is eager to leave the past behind and focus on the positive.

“I’m glad everyone came out alive, and this is your proof right here,” he said, adding Wang will continue her therapy and rehabilitation in Kona and in Honolulu.

“She’s done all the healing she can in hospital,” he said. “The home environment will be good for her. She has an amazing positive attitude about what happened, It’s heart-warming.”

The couple said they don’t have bad feelings toward Stream or Brennan.

“They’re going through a lot. I hope they get better and move on,” Wang said. “But maybe they will also learn from it and grow from it.”

Last month, Brennan signed on as quarterback with the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League.

The couple has filed a lawsuit against Stream, claiming she was driving in a “careless and negligent manner.”

Prosecutors have filed no charges in connection with the crash.

TV crews interview Theresa Wang and David Chen after their arrival Saturday, July 30 in Kona. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

3 Responses to “Wang has a happy homecoming”

  1. mrskailuakona says:

    This is great news! May Theresa find peace after returning home to the Big Island. She will continue to heal at home with her husband at her side. Shame on the Hawaii police for not filing charges against the female driver. I’m happy the doctor is suing the other driver who has gone on like nothing happened after this tragic accident.

  2. Joan says:

    Keep on doing the work and don’t think “that’s all there is.” I had a lesser head injury (head broke the windshield, frontal/temporal lobe injuries) and found that my functioning continued to improve in spurts for well over 2 years. Blessings to you.

  3. jasper says:

    Maybe Colt Brennan and his little girlfriend will “unforget” all the details that caused this horrible accident and finally tell the truth, only they know but refuse to tell. It’s a shame they have been so snake-like while Mrs. Wang’s been so strong and forgiving.


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