Feature

Undefeated

On February 18, Denver serial rapist Brent J. Brents nearly beat 33-year-old Tiffany Engle to death. She was his last victim—and she is also my friend.

October 2005

On her third day, Tiffany started therapy. She was given a spreadsheet that resembled a schedule of university classes: physical therapy from 9 to 10 a.m.; speech therapy from 11 a.m. till noon; lunch; occupational therapy from 1 to 2 p.m.; psychological therapy from 3 to 4 p.m. And she was responsible for remembering to get to her classes on time and on her own in a wheelchair-which also meant remembering exactly where in the hospital her classes took place. A seemingly easy feat, except that temporal-lobe damage had affected her visual and spatial memory. Tiffany's occupational therapist would take her out of her room, turn down another hallway, and stop, and then ask Tiffany to return to her room. Only 15 feet from her bed, Tiffany could not remember how to get back. A look of desperate confusion and agitation spread across her face as she looked around for clues. Finding that nothing struck her as familiar, she rolled from room to room to room.

Wearing a safety helmet because of the missing skull piece, Tiffany made her way through her first days of therapy. Nearly all Craig patients require some physical therapy for their injuries, and Tiffany was no exception. After having been bed-bound for three weeks, Tiffany had lost muscle mass and stamina. Her ear infection as well as the craniotomy, which changed the pressure in her head, had affected her balance.

Tiffany's physical therapist began with a very basic skill: standing up. The therapist assisted her out of her wheelchair and situated her on a floor mat in a half-kneeling position. From there, she asked Tiffany to slowly stand up. Tiffany gingerly tried to lift her body, wobbled, and then crashed back to the mat, stunned. It was the moment at which Tiffany started to grasp just how impaired she really was. She thought, My God, this is how I always get up off the floor. Why can't I do this? It was a question that bounced through her mind on a daily basis. From working out on an exercise ball to walking a balance beam, Tiffany kept falling. The agony of knowing how to do something, knowing she should be able to do something, knowing she used to do that something every day, and not being able to physically do it was a battle Tiffany waged with her body and the injured parts of her brain for weeks.

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