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Three months ago, Emily Buikema’s life looked radically different.
The 27-year-old Frankfort resident spent her days working as a cashier at Berkot’s Super Foods and caring for dogs by volunteering at P.A.W.S. of Tinley Park.
That all changed on Christmas Day, when another car struck the vehicle in which she and her boyfriend, Greg Babush, were traveling in New Lenox.
“[The driver] was in the other lane,” she said. “He swerved into our lane and hit us head-on.”
Sharon Buikema, Emily’s mother, said law enforcement informed the family that the other vehicle’s driver had been under the influence of alcohol. She said she hoped the incident would help raise community awareness of the dangers of drunk driving.
“Drunk drivers don’t just hurt themselves,” she said. “They really ruin the lives of other people that they hit. Emily’s life is changed forever.”
Now, six surgeries and countless medical expenses later, Emily is slowly recovering from that fateful night and facing an uncertain future.
Sharon said the first five surgeries repaired extensive injuries to her daughter’s abdomen, including damage to her colon and intestines. She needed to have a vein from her right leg taken to repair a damaged aortic artery, and part of her skull was removed to relieve pressure.
The accident also caused blood clots in Emily’s brain, leading to a stroke and complications such as memory deficits and left-side paralysis.
“The brain will not let the left side see, so she has vision issues,” Sharon added. “So, it’s hard for her to read or to text anybody, because that left side won’t let her see anything on the left side of her vision field.”
In the days to come, Emily will need an additional operation to replace the portion of her skull, as well as potential surgery on her abdomen if the wound does not continue to heal or close up.
“She has what they call a wound vac ... That’s been helping with the healing, but it’s going to be a long process before it actually can close up, so she might need skin grafts or something like that in the future,” Sharon said.
Emily is currently staying at RML Specialty Hospital in Hinsdale and hopes to eventually head to the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, with the goal of coming home and completing outpatient
To help with all of the medical bills, the family launched a GoFundMe page this month, www.gofundme.com/emily-buikemas-fighting-spirit. As of Wednesday morning, the page had raised more than $6,000 out of a $50,000 goal.
Those funds will be used to pay for medical expenses not covered by the family’s health insurance. Depending on Emily’s physical state, the money could also be used to pay for wheelchair or walker accessible modifications to the house, a handicap-accessible vehicle and potentially a nurse to help care for Emily, Sharon said.
“She had a graphic design job that she was going to work on, and she can’t take care of the dogs anymore, just ‘cause we don’t know what mobility she’s even going to get after this,” Sharon said. “For my husband and I, we’re here all the time. Our goal was to retire and get through maybe a little traveling ... it just changes the whole house. We’re having to take care of Emily, which we don’t mind at all, and encourage her and be supportive of her.”
Emily said her main goal is to get back to working with the dogs.
“I want to rehabilitate dogs that are close to being put down,” she said. “I think that, to me, dogs fall through the cracks in shelters ... I want to help shelters come up with methods to rehabilitate them, instead of just putting them down.”
Sharon said she was proud of how far her daughter had come in her recovery. Shortly after the accident, Emily needed the assistance of a ventilator to breathe and a tracheotomy tube to eat. She no longer requires either device.
“She’s motivated to do all her therapy to get better as soon as possible and to get to rehab, because she knows that’s where the most progress will happen,” Sharon said. “She’s definitely a fighter. She fought through a lot.”