Anna Horejs was returning home from a routine college visit in Stevens Point last fall when her life was drastically altered.
She contacted her parents at about 4:40 p.m. Nov. 15 to tell them she was on her way home, driving her family's van on Highway 10 near Waupaca.
And then everything changed.
Horejs suffered life-threatening injuries when the van was hit head-on, at highway speed, by an 86-year-old man driving the wrong way on the four-lane highway.
Du Wayne Dobratz of Manawa died at the scene, according to news reports.
It took first responders 45 minutes to pry Horejs, a Wauwatosa East High School senior, out of the vehicle. The steering wheel drove through Horejs' midsection, causing a plethora of injuries, including a ruptured diaphragm, a collapsed lung, broken pelvis, sacrum, wrist and arm.
The worst injury, said her mother, came when the vehicle's dashboard caved in, crushing her daughter's left leg. Horejs suffered extensive nerve damage to that leg, and doctors have told the family it could take up to two years to determine how much range of motion, strength and sensitivity will return to the limb.
After the accident, the Horejs family was thrust into a frightening spiral of hospital stays and surgeries. She received eight units of blood her first night in the hospital, said her mother, Chris Horejs.
Despite the odds, Horejs has maintained her typical caring demeanor, her mother said.
'When she was in the (intensive care unit), and she wasn't able to talk because she was still ventilated, she was able to write things on a board,' said Chris Horejs, speaking through tears. 'The first thing she wrote was 'How are you guys?' She doesn't want to be a hindrance; she's never been a hindrance.'
Before the accident, Horejs was active in her school's music department; she has played the violin since fourth grade and traveled to Ireland just weeks before the accident with the school orchestra. She played tennis and was an active member of Link Crew, an organization that helps freshmen become familiarized with the high school.
'She's very personable,' said her mother. 'She's got so many groups of friends. She just doesn't stick to one group. She's very open-minded, not judgmental like a lot of teens are. She will set a goal for herself, and she'll end up achieving it.'
Horejs' dogged determination came into play during a recent physical therapy session when she walked using one crutch instead of two — something her doctors never thought would be possible.
She still uses a wheelchair from time to time, and is now settled in at home to recuperate. Horejs said she finds motivation to keep pushing forward in the people surrounding her.
'I want to prove to myself and prove to doctors that I can do it and that I can keep going,' said Horejs, who was in the middle of a painting project during her interview with Now Newspapers. 'I knew it was a long road ahead of me. It's setting the goals, and once you hit them, even the little goals, you kind of thrive.'
Horejs has completed her schoolwork from home since the accident, but thanks to a heavy Advanced Placement course load throughout her tenure at Wauwatosa East High School and years of enrolling in summer classes, she only needed 1.5 credits to graduate, her mom said.
She plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the fall to study business and computer science. Her family has requested a handicap-accessible room, as it will provide extra space for the medical equipment she'll likely take with her.
Despite the unforeseen setbacks, Horejs said her future is bright.
'It's definitely exciting to go to college, and it's going to be weird that I'm going to (UW-Stevens Point), but I'm excited for the new journey.'
Community looks to help
Horejs' classmates have banded together to help the family pay for medical bills not covered by insurance.
A benefit has been scheduled for May 1 at doughnut shop and pizzeria Cranky Al's, 6901 W. North Ave. Twenty percent of all pizza sales that evening will be donated to the Horejs family. Further, Cranky Al's employees will donate all tips that evening to the cause.
'When an employee who is also a Tosa East Orchestra member came to me with this idea, I was excited for Cranky's to do whatever it could,' said general manager Joey Carioti. 'We're very committed to our East Tosa neighbors and are looking forward to a great evening of music, pizza and community.'
The event will feature performances by the Pickle Alley String Band, Wauwatosa East's fiddle club and a silent auction with items donated by local businesses.
'I'm so proud of how these students stepped forward to organize this event themselves to help a classmate,' said Jeff Sturgeon, orchestra director at Wauwatosa East. 'They've worked very hard, and the community has really stepped up to support this concert.'
To learn more about Horejs' story or to make an online donation, visit her Go Fund Me page, 'Walking with Anna,' at gofundme.com/annahorejs.
If you go
WHAT: An evening of music, community and pizza
WHERE: Cranky Al's, 6901 W. North Ave.
WHEN: 4 to 8 p.m. May 1
WHY: To benefit Wauwatosa East senior Anna Horejs, who sustained life-threatening injuries in a car accident last fall
HOW: Learn more online at gofundme.com/annahorejs.