SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, September 8, 2011 ( – A wife and a mother who cheated death and defied the odds, is alive today and on the path to recovery only because her husband refused to give up on her while she was in a coma, despite the doctor’s recommendation that life-support be removed.

Just three months ago, Shelli Eldredge was in a coma in a Hawaii hospital. During her vacation, while touring on mopeds with her husband and two sons, a terrible accident caused her spine to be broken in numerous places, her pelvis to be shattered, and her skull and facial bones to be fractured.

“Her legs were severely disfigured. Her hips were disfigured. When I saw her, I thought she died,” said Shelli’s husband Stephen during an interview with TODAY.

Hours after arriving to the hospital, Shelli slipped into a coma and was unresponsive for weeks. Her doctors were not hopeful about her recovery.

Even though Shelli’s husband, a doctor himself, thought it was “pretty apparent that she wasn’t going to wake up,” he decided to give her some more time and to “move forward at all costs.”

The gift of extra time was just what Shelli needed for a sequence of events to unfold that Stephen says defies medical justification.

“The brain injury and the testing that demonstrated a loss of typical brain architecture was not consistent or compatible with life or return of function. It was very disheartening to face the […] likely possibility of her never being able to wake up or function,” said Stephen.

But Stephen recalled how one day, when Shelli was a few weeks into the coma, he walked over to her side and was amazed to discover that she “tracked” him with her eyes. “She actually followed my path.” Another day, Stephen told her a joke and recalled with delight how Shelli “laughed.”

“We looked over, and I said, ‘Shelli, did you hear that?’” said Stephen. “She raised her eyebrows. I thought to myself, ‘If I have my wife and that’s all I get, that’s OK.’”

Within days of this turn of events Shelli began to show distinct signs of reviving, such as moving her body and speaking.

Shelli, who now needs a wheelchair to get around, has returned to her home in Utah where her family is helping her in reaching her goal of full recovery. “I know I’ll be able to do it and finish it and get back to normal, but it’s hard seeing everything you used to do and not quite being able to do it yet,” said Shelli who enjoys cycling.

After her life-changing accident, Shelli does not focus on herself and her own needs. “I just think we’re so blessed and hopefully I can find my mission and help other people.”

As Shelli pursues that mission, Nancy Valko, a Registered Nurse for 42 years who serves on medical and nursing ethics committees, told that Shelli’s story of triumph-against-all-odds is an encouragement for all people who are faced with end-of-life decisions. “How many other patients have died or become non-heartbeating organ donors before given a similar chance?” she wondered.

“We need to change our attitudes towards disability and dependency to fully embrace the Culture of Life,” she said.

For Shelli, “just being given the gift of time made all the difference.”


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