Girl injured by tree will try new rehab

November 18, 2005

Julia Engle, 13, right, posed Wednesday with her sister

COURTESY OF ENGLE FAMILY
Julia Engle, 13, right, posed Wednesday with her sister, Christine, 10. Due to a brain injury suffered in March, Engle has been having trouble keeping up at Punahou School

The California clinic specializes in treating cognitive difficulties

By Rosemarie Bernardo

rbernardo@starbulletin.com

A MANOA girl who suffered brain trauma after she was struck by a tree that crashed into her home in March is having difficulty keeping up with her fellow students and experiencing changes in short-term memory, personality and relationships with family members.

Since coming out of a three-week coma, Julia Engle has made drastic improvements in physical and occupational therapy. Still, there are areas where she is having problems, said attorney Rick Fried yesterday at a news conference.

It is too early to determine whether Engle will fully recover, Fried said. "We're hopeful. She's had an awfully significant injury," he said. "I think she's going to have a permanent injury. How she copes with it is what we're hoping to maximize."

ON MARCH 15, Engle was sleeping in her bedroom when a 70- to 75-foot pine tree sliced through her home and struck her head. Surgeons removed blood clots and a 4-inch piece of her skull to reduce swelling. The piece was later put back with titanium screws.

After undergoing multiple surgeries, she was later transferred to the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific from the Queen's Medical Center. Engle was released from the hospital in the first week of May and continues physical and occupational therapy at the rehabilitation hospital as an outpatient.

On Nov. 23, Engle will leave Hawaii for Casa Colina, a neurocognitive rehabilitation facility in Pomona, Calif. Her mother, Debbie, and father, Tom, will each take turns staying with her throughout her planned five-week stay at the residential facility.

"She's done dramatic improvements since the incident but still has quite a bit of high level cognitive improvement to go, and that's the purpose of this, which everybody seems to believe is probably the best place to maximize her improvement," Fried said.

Sometime in September, Engle, now 13, returned to Punahou School as an eighth-grader.

"Unfortunately, because the traumatic brain injury caused some damage, she was not able to keep up," Fried said.

ENGLE'S PERSONALITY has changed from bubbly to reserved since she suffered from the brain injury, he added, noting that her doctors diagnosed her with having a "flat affect," which means she is limited in expression and responsiveness.

Fried said Engle's short-term memory has also been affected. Recalling her studies involving the Civil War or which seat she was assigned to in various classes at Punahou has been tough, he said.

She is also experiencing problems in her relationships with family members and friends and focusing on a specific task. "She gets distracted easily, and these are some of the sort of things that they (rehabilitation facility) hope to provide some coping skills to deal with," he said.

Engle will continue physical and occupational therapy at the rehabilitation facility daily. Staff members will also hold daily counseling sessions and educational assistance. Fried said he is expected to receive a full assessment of Engle's progress at the rehabilitation facility sometime in January.

In May, Engle's parents filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Nilasoni Landscape Co. The company was hired by the city to monitor disease and insect damage to certain types of pine trees that included trees along Beckwith Street, where Engle lives. A trial date has been scheduled for September.