HOLLAND, Mich. — On Christmas Day, a family from Holland experienced a tragedy they could have never expected. A car accident left two of them in the hospital, with one fighting for her life.
In what some call a miracle, she has finally woken up, but still has an incredibly long way to go in her recovery. Now, her boyfriend is hoping the community can come together to support her and bring her home.
"She has an extremely long journey ahead," said Zach Keener.
Chantal Pommerening just celebrated her 31st birthday on Christmas Eve, and just a day later, on one of the happiest days of the year, her life would change forever.
"One of the last things I told her was be safe and come back to me safe, and she promised she would," Keener said, "and that was it."
Chantal was on her way to a family party with her father on Christmas Day. Just before noon, their trailblazer lost control on 120th Avenue near Winans Street in Robinson Township. They spun sideways, crashing into a car coming the other direction.
Chantal and her dad suffered significant injuries, and had to be extricated by fire crews. Both were transported to Spectrum Butterworth in critical condition.
"For Chantal, it was touch and go," said Keener, who has been with Chantal for more than three years. "I was scared. I was absolutely scared."
Chantal's father was recently released from the hospital after several surgeries, but is still wheelchair-bound. Chantal, unfortunately, hasn't been so lucky.
"From day one, the doctors and nurses have always said just wait and see," Keener said. "They told us they couldn't make no promises."
Chantal suffered a shattered pelvis, multiple cuts, bruises, and fractures, plus a punctured lung that resulted in an ongoing infection she's still currently fighting. Keener said Chantal also suffered extensive brain damage, the extent of which is still unknown.
"She had damage to her brain stem that had initially caused the loss of autonomous function as far as swallowing and breathing," said Keener, "so, she was put on a ventilator and given a tracheostomy through the time that she was asleep."
On top of all of that, Chantal had multiple strokes caused by her injuries. Doctors had to cut out portions of her cerebellum, and in order to reduce swelling in her brain, they had to remove a small portion of her skull.
"It was very touch-and-go, and they didn't want to ruin anyone's hope," Keener said, "but the reality was there that she might not ever even wake up."
In what some people called a miracle, weeks after the accident, Chantal opened her eyes.
"I don't know how many times I've cried through all this," Keener said, "and then to finally see her awake, and to have her reach for my hand and mouth 'I love you,' I couldn't help but tear up."
Chantal has recently been moved to a new facility for more medical rehabilitation, and to better control the infection in her lung. She is now talking with the aid of a valve in her in her throat. She's off the ventilator, but she still can't swallow, so she is connected to a feeding tube for nutrition. Chantal has also already undergone surgery to rebuild her hip and pelvis.
"She's struggling emotionally and physically," Keener said, "but when you talk to her you see she's there, and you see that she's she's a fighter."
Keener said that although she is awake and talking, there are a lot of gaps in her memory.
"There's no doubt to me that she's there, we just don't know yet the extent of what's missing," Keener said. "She has to go undergo of a occupational physical and cognitive therapy, but like they told us, it's all just wait and see."
"She's the nicest person you've probably ever want to meet, and she's generous to a fault," added Keener, with tears in his eyes. "She's still there. She's still the same person."
Keener has a young daughter from a previous relationship, who he said is like a daughter to Chantal.
"In [my daughter's] words, she hopes that next year her Christmas present can be Chantal coming home," Keener said.
"Without her here, it doesn't feel like home," he added. "It won't feel like home until she's here again, and the house is full of her laughter and her smile."
With such a long journey ahead, Keener is hoping the community will support her through a GoFundMe.
"It's the not knowing what we have ahead of us that is the hardest," he said. "We don't know what other hurdles she's going to have, and I'm just trying to make sure we're as prepared as possible to make her journey home as easy as possible."
Keener said he and Chantal have never been ones to ask for help, but he knew this time was different.
"She's never felt like she mattered enough, and she would sacrifice anything for everyone else," Keener said. "and that's why this is for her, so that she knows she does matter."
"I finally told myself that if there's no one else worth it, she's worth it."
To learn more about Chantal's story and to find the link to her GoFundMe, click here.
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