Finally back in St. Paul with the dog she loves, 20-year-old Ellie Cizek has returned home after spending five months recovering from a traumatic brain injury she sustained while skiing in Winter Park, Colo.
"Nothing can be better than being home, honestly," Cizek said.
However, in February there was a point where her family didn't know if their Kansas University sophomore would ever come home. For a week, Cizek was in a coma after suffering a severe traumatic brain injury when she hit her head on a pole and tree while skiing in Winter Park, Colorado.
"To me, in my head that's not me. I was not in a coma, that can't be right," she said.
After waking up, Cizek would spend the next five months rehabbing, getting stronger and learning the basics all over again.
"Having the injury I wasn't sure where I was, why I was there," Cizek said.
"This sounds so terrible to say but to me it was almost like I was in jail kind of, I wanted to get out and I couldn't."
The support, especially from her Kappa sorority sisters at KU, motivated her to push through adversity and get better. This summer, after all the hard work, she finally got to come home.
"I kept having to blink and make sure I wasn't in a dream or sleeping," Cizek said.
"I was blessed, extremely blessed to wake up and be back where I am today."
Her family says she takes after her middle name, Joy, bringing just that to so many, and while she was still fighting for the life she once knew, the family was prompted to create the Joy Recovery Project.
The family sold super-soft, plush blankets to raise money to send her to a rehab facility that's not covered by insurance, and they're paying it forward donating the blankets to others struggling with brain and spinal injuries.
Now, Cizek is happy to be back with her friends, but is striving to get back to school -- this time, she has new goals in mind.
"You take every day as it comes and try to take advantage of every day," she said.
"I'm going to devote my life to try and make a difference for other people that have experienced this."
HOW YOU CAN HELP
You can make a donation by visiting Project Joy Recovery's website at http://www.joyrecoveryproject.org