Nearly six months ago, Oakland University students Jenna Balabuch, Rachel Ring and Shannon Waite were traveling to Detroit on southbound Interstate 75 when a driver rear-ended their stopped vehicle at 70 mph.
The three were traveling to the John K. King bookstore in Detroit for a Sigma Tau Delta English honor’s society event.
Balabuch and Ring, best friends, were sitting in the backseat of the car and were killed. Waite, the driver, escaped the crash sustaining traumatic brain injuries that left her in a coma for weeks.
After the accident, Waite woke up in the hospital with no recollection of what had transpired.
“I actually don’t remember the accident. I know what happened from other people, but it feels like a story,” said Waite, a senior majoring in English literature and minoring in English as a second language. “I woke up in the hospital and had no idea of why I was there.”
Unsure of what the doctors wanted to tell her, Waite’s father, Don, told her she bumped her head.
“Once she woke up, she was quick to recover,” he said. “There’s no way I could have imagined being where we are today four to five months ago.”
The brain injuries Waite sustained were enough to put her in critical condition, but she avoided broken bones and long-term effects — the reason she was given the nickname “miracle Shannon” by the OU community.
“When I woke up, I had piles and piles of cards and things,” she said. “I remember, I don’t remember much from the hospital, but I remember reading through them and telling my mom, ‘it’s really sad that it takes you either dying or almost dying to hear these nice things from people.’ It would be nice if people could hear this kind of stuff every day.”
Missing more than a month of school for her recovery, Waite was looking forward to getting back to her normal life of working four jobs, being a student and driving. Eager to apply for the OU Secondary Teacher Education Program, she was worried her recovery would put her a year behind, as the program starts each fall.
Waite also wanted to get back to her boyfriend, Karl Resch, an OU alum she has been dating for the past two and a half years.
Resch, who graduated in 2011 with a degree in engineering biology, said he spent a lot of time with Waite through her recovery, especially during the first few weeks. He said the accident changed their relationship, but for the better.
“It (the accident) puts a different spin on life, not just with me and her, but with me and everyone I know,” Resch said. “It happened so quickly and it really kind of puts a lot of things into perspective. You realize when you’re talking to someone, when you have a disagreement, some of the issues aren’t that big of a deal anymore once it’s all kind of brought into perspective.”
According to Resch, the couple met on Waite’s first day at OU in August 2009, when she was first moving on campus. Now, she serves as a resident assistant in the Hill dorms and was anxious to return to the job.
Unfortunately for Waite, she lost touch with some of her friends during her recovery, but she hasn’t let it set her back. After she was released from the hospital, she was quick to jump back into her busy lifestyle, make more friends and drive her new car.
“Shannon’s incredibly determined and she definitely has her mind made up as to what she wants and how she’s going to go about achieving it,” Resch said. “She views herself as having no limits.”
Though Waite said she doesn’t remember the accident, it’s something she said will live with her for the rest of her life.
“I think about it (the accident) a lot and it’s just interesting how stuff can happen and how stuff cannot happen and I don’t understand how two other girls died and then I walked away from it with no issues. It does make me think.”
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