The teen's life was turned upside down on August 1 when the car she was riding in with three friends was hit head-on by an alleged drunk driver.
A 17-year-old who had both of her legs amputated after an alleged drunk driver rammed into the car she was traveling in earlier this year, received a hero's welcome home after spending 75 days in the hospital. Sarah Frei of Syracuse, Utah, was surprised with a heartwarming parade by her doctors, nurses, and physical therapists at the Craig H Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital in Salt Lake City on October 14 when she left the facility following nearly three months of recovery. They were joined by the University of Utah cheerleading squad who lined the hospital's exit with the staff to celebrate Sarah's return home after such an arduous experience.
According to Good Morning America, Sarah's life was turned upside down on August 1 when the car she was riding in with three friends was hit head-on. In a Facebook post announcing her return home, the teen's family wrote: "After 75 days in the hospital, 20 surgeries and over 70 hours of therapy, Sarah was able to come home on Tuesday!! The rehab hospital surprised Sarah while she was on her way out as several of her doctors nurses and therapists lined the walkway outside to congratulate her on graduating from in-patient therapy! The University of Utah cheerleaders also came to cheer Sarah on! It was so special, and you can see how much it touched Sarah and her parents."
The whole community came together to celebrate the inspiring young lady's return home in a police-escorted parade that had dozens of her family, friends, and high school classmates lining the streets. "I didn’t realize how big it could be," said Sarah. "Once we’d pass [people], they’d join in behind, holding signs." A video of the parade was shared to the Instagram page strong.like.sarah — which has been chronicling the teen's road to recovery — with a caption detailing all the incredible moments from the procession.
"The parade began about a mile from Sarah's house. We had a police escort followed by Sarah's cheer team dancing to 'Home Sweet' by Russell Dickerson and then Sarah in a RZR with her mom and dad. Following Sarah was her family, then the CHS drill team and lastly the fire department," the caption revealed. "As Sarah would pass the people on the road they would join in and walk behind her - cheer teams from other schools, the CHS soccer team, CHS football team, and others! At the end all the cheer teams that were there came together and performed the 'Sarah Strong Dance' for her. It was such an incredible moment. Sarah was welcomed home with so much support! We are so so grateful! She has loved being home!"
Just a day after her return, Sarah was able to experience yet another unforgettable moment when she — a cheerleader and high school senior — joined her teammates on the field for the last home football game of the season. "I think that was probably the one thing she was looking forward to the most, just hoping that she would be able to go to that game and have that experience her senior year, the last football game," said Sarah's mom, Amy Frei. "The timing of her coming home that Tuesday and the game being that Wednesday, it was pretty amazing that she felt good and was able to do it."
"We really are just in awe of her," added the mother-of-six, who has had to alternate being in the hospital with Sarah with her husband due to COVID-19 visitor restrictions. "The first time she was able to sit up and she could actually see and feel her legs, there were no tears. The first thing she said was, 'They did a good job.' It was just beautiful. She has stayed positive and held us through it and, almost in a way, made it easier on us." Dr. Venessa Lee, the spinal cord injury attending who worked with the teen during the four weeks she spent at Craig H Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital, was also in awe of Sarah's unbreakable spirit through it all.
She said she watched Sarah get through grueling physical therapy sessions and bad news about her prognosis with unwavering optimism. "She made our job very easy because she wanted to work very hard every day," said Lee. "We would try to give her permission to complain or to say it’s OK to have a bad day or be grumpy, and she never complained." Lee, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Utah, revealed that the teen will need to rely on a wheelchair for the rest of her life as her injury — a T11 spinal cord injury — drastically reduces her chances of using prostheses in the future.
However, even faced with that type of life-changing news, Sarah (who was the youngest patient on the hospital's spinal cord injury floor) always focused on finding solutions. "Every time she chose to ask, ‘What’s next?,'" said Lee. "There were multiple times that we had to go in and break bad news ... and she would look at us with a smile and say, ‘Well what do we do about it?'" The teen's determination to overcome the odds and make the best of her situation has inspired tens of thousands of people on social media, who have been following her journey with the hashtag #SarahStrong.
"We are so grateful for [the support] and it’s been needed. This has been hard and the support that we have felt has really strengthened us," said Frei. Sarah plans to graduate on time with her senior class this year and wants to become a teacher. "Everyone who has helped us has been so supportive, which shows that we just have all this love that we shouldn’t take for granted and that people are always there for us, there for me," she said. "I think it’s good for other people to know that they’re not alone, and that’s something that I’ve learned."