The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    The girl who’s seen it all

    Submitted photos

    For then-17-year-old Amber Gaslin, the 2005 Christmas season wasn’t as merry as it was for others.

    In November of that year, fewer than four years after both her parents had died of cancer, Gaslin, now a freshman at UW-Eau Claire, was the victim of a near-fatal car accident.

    Gaslin endured brain damage, broken bones and damaged organs in the wreck, but she has made a near-full recovery, and she credits the support of her family as one of the greatest factors in her improvement.

    Cancer claims both parents

    Story continues below advertisement

    Tragedy first struck for Gaslin when she was in seventh grade. At age 12, she watched as her father died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer. One year later, Gaslin watched her mother succumb to breast cancer.

    Gaslin said she has learned to move on with her life, but she added there are still times when she gets upset over the loss of her parents. Gaslin said particular events have been more difficult to deal with than others.

    “It depends on the day,” Gaslin said. “Some days I don’t really think about it a lot. Some days I do think about it a lot.

    “Big events in my life have been hard,” she said, adding getting her driver’s license, going to prom and graduating from high school have been particularly difficult to deal with.

    But Gaslin said the deaths of her mother and father have brought her closer to other members of her family. She said she is especially close to her younger brother, Ryan, saying she and her brother have seen each other through everything.

    “(Ryan is) probably one of my favorite people in the entire world,” Gaslin said. “It’s just brought us really close because the two of us have been through all of this.”

    Gaslin also said she has become closer with other family members as well. Following the death of her mother, Gaslin said she and her brother moved in with their aunt and uncle, Carolyn and Marty Gaslin.

    “I’m so close with my family members,” she said. “I’m so grateful for that. It’s just been really nice to have family.”

    A near-fatal accident

    But losing both parents within almost one year of each other was not the only hardship that Gaslin has faced in her life.

    On Nov. 23, 2005, Gaslin said, she and her boyfriend were involved in a car accident. A school bus crashed into the side of the car they were riding in when the car ran a stop sign, she said.

    Gaslin was flown to Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minn. Doctors later told her that had she not gotten to a hospital within an hour following her accident, she would have died, she said.

    “That’s really scary to think about,” Gaslin said. “I could be dead right now. It’s very surreal.”

    At the hospital, Gaslin said, medical personnel treated her for two broken ribs, a fractured bone in her neck, a lacerated liver, a damaged spleen and a chipped vertebra in her back.

    Gaslin, who remained unconscious for a week after being rushed to the hospital, also said she suffered brain damage as a result of the accident. She said the doctors told her that her brain was bleeding in three areas.

    Gaslin added her spleen was damaged so badly that it had to be removed, and said she likes to show off her scar to friends.

    “I have a great big scar on my stomach – that’s my pride and joy,” she said. “I like my scar.”

    One of Gaslin’s friends, freshman Steph Nohr, echoed her friend’s statements.

    “She’s always showing off her scar on her stomach,” Nohr said. “She thinks it’s really cool.”

    Recovering from the crash

    For the first week following her accident, Gaslin’s injuries confined her to a wheelchair and forced her to eat through a feeding tube.

    She quickly recovered, however, and said she was able to leave the hospital after about a month, returning home Dec. 22, 2005.

    However, leaving the hospital did not mark the end of her recovery process, and Gaslin said she continued to deal with emotional and cognitive problems upon returning home.

    Emotionally, Gaslin said her experience was difficult. She said she didn’t cry or show any emotional instability during the first month-and-a-half following the accident, but said she cried almost every day during the four or five months that followed.

    She said almost anything could bring about a strong emotional response and that it took several months for her to overcome her strong and unstable emotions.

    But aside from the emotional side-effects, Gaslin said she also noticed problems in her ability to do certain types of schoolwork.

    “I can’t do math,” Gaslin said. “I used to be really good at math, and I didn’t really have to try that hard, and now I can’t really do math for the life of me.”

    But Gaslin added she has since seen improvement in her mathematical abilities. She said she is doing well in her current math class and even looked at her roommate’s math textbook and was able to understand many of the problems in it.

    Gaslin also said she seemed to read more slowly following the accident and that she sometimes had trouble speaking. She has improved both her reading and speaking abilities, and says she feels she is back to now back to normal, she said.

    In fact, Gaslin’s recovery from her accident has been so successful that many of her friends say they don’t even notice anything wrong with her.

    Nohr said she didn’t realize her friend had been in a serious car accident until Gaslin told her.

    “I would have never known that anything had ever happened to her,” Nohr said. “I wouldn’t have known . until she showed me her scar.”

    Support from all around

    Despite losing both her parents and suffering brain damage, friends and family members say that Gaslin has dealt with her problems successfully.

    “I think she handled it really well,” Carolyn Gaslin said, adding her niece’s large network of friends and relatives was an important factor in her recovery process.

    “She has quite a large family, so she had a lot of support,” Carolyn Gaslin said.

    Amber Gaslin agreed with her aunt, saying her family was an important aspect of her recovery.

    Gaslin said her aunt and uncle often accompanied her to her therapy sessions and motivated her to get through her time in the hospital.

    During one of her therapy sessions, for example, Gaslin said she was having a hard time staying awake. Her aunt helped motivate her to stay awake, Gaslin said.

    “I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have my aunt and uncle there,” Gaslin said of her time in the hospital. “One of them would stay every night and stay on the couch in my room, which was really nice.”

    Gaslin also said the support from her friends helped a lot as well. Gillette Children’s Hospital set up a Web site where her friends could leave her messages; by the time she left the hospital nearly a month after her accident, Gaslin said she had received 4,000 messages on the Web site.

    Freshman Dewey Thoner, who went to high school with Gaslin, described the reaction of her fellow classmates following her accident.

    “The whole class just kind of came together,” Thoner said. “Everyone was there for her and everyone was really helpful.”

    Happy and energetic

    Many people who know Gaslin today describe her as outgoing, friendly and optimistic.

    “She looks for the silver lining of a cloud,” Carolyn Gaslin said of her niece. “She really strived to look forward and knew things would be better.”

    Other friends have similar opinions of Gaslin’s personality.

    Thoner described her as someone who “likes to be in a big group.”

    “She’s very outgoing and she’s kind of a people person,” he said. “She’s usually happy.”

    Freshman James Mascitti also described Gaslin as very outgoing and easy to talk to. He said he met Gaslin in the cafeteria one day while he was in line to get an omelet, and said Gaslin just walked up to him and started talking.

    “She’s really outgoing and friendly,” Mascitti said. “I just remember thinking, ‘She’s pretty excited and chipper.'”

    Freshman Ellen Dawson said she met Gaslin through a friend and described her first impression of the freshman.

    “I thought she was awesome,” Dawson said. “She was the funniest person I’ve ever met. She’s just a really fun girl.”

    But while Gaslin is close to many of her friends, she said she is even closer to her family, adding she likes to spend much of her free time with her aunt and uncle.

    “I like to come home a lot because I really love my family,” Gaslin said. “They’ve been there for me through everything. It’s good to know that they’ll always be there for me.”

    Leave a Comment
    More to Discover

    Comments (0)

    The Spectator intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. The Spectator does not allow anonymous comments and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
    All The Spectator Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Activate Search
    The girl who’s seen it all