After an accident, UW Health expert care helps Jenna get her life back

Most Badger fans remember the thrilling, heartbreaking Sweet Sixteen game against Florida on March 24, 2017. Jenna Preston doesn't.

Oh, she knows she got together with her UW-Platteville friends to watch the Badgers men's basketball game on TV; the team included Ethan Happ, a friend from her 77-member graduating class from Rockridge High School in northwestern Illinois.

But sometime that night, looking for the bathroom at the house party, she opened a door and plunged down a flight of basement stairs. She doesn’t remember the ambulance, the Med Flight helicopter or her brain surgery at University Hospital. She doesn’t remember Happ visiting her in the hospital. When she finally awoke, one of the first things she does remember is gazing into the large brown eyes of a Jersey calf from her family's dairy herd.

Sometime during her two-week, medically induced coma, a large box of photo enlargements had arrived at the Neuro ICU. The photographer had been at Preston’s family farm to shoot Jenna’s graduation pictures. She made and sent the enlargements so that when – or if, really - Jenna awoke, she would see something familiar. 

Jenna’s father, Brian Preston, praised the care his daughter received at UW including case manager Melissa Hillestad, who worked the phones for hours to convince the insurance company to approve rehabilitation care for Jenna.

"And Genevieve, the nurse, was her first nurse, and the one who gave us hope that she would pull through this," Brian Preston said. “The incredible nursing staff at UW-Madison are second to none and have my complete admiration. I tell everyone how this absolute tragedy was blessed after the fact by the UW-Madison staff. They're the reason she is where she is today."

Nearly a year after that accident, Jenna has made the long road back, through two hospitals and an entire summer in a rehabilitation program, to begin her spring semester as a UW-Platteville agriculture business major.

That photo of the calf is making a trip, too, although only down the hallway of University Hospital’s 4th floor. At the end of January 2018, the hospital is opening a brand new Neuro ICU for patients like Jenna, who come in from all over the Upper Midwest through the hospital’s Level I Trauma Center.

For Pat Chesmore, the nurse who manages the unit, the photo, signed by Jenna, symbolizes the miraculous recoveries that some of their patients make. It is a message of hope for patients and families at the beginning of that long journey back from a serious head injury.