Bowman, 20, of Woodstock, hadn’t been able to effectively communicate since last April when she took a downturn in her recovery from severe brain injuries she received in a February 2013 hit-and-run with a suspected drunk driver in Athens.
But since shortly after Thanksgiving, her parents, Dale and Debbie, say much has changed for their daughter. She can now read, write and answer basic math problems with her fingers.
“Her little baby steps are turning into bigger steps,” Dale said Friday, smiling at his daughter in their home on Rising Drive. “Here lately, it seems like something new about every day.”
Emily, a former Kennesaw State University student, remains in a wheelchair and unable to speak since returning to her home June 27 after more than four months in north Georgia hospitals. She relies heavily on her parents and nurses, who come to help her eat and bathe.
Debbie also has to hold her wrist as she writes out answers to questions using a stylus on an iPad.
But no matter how much help she needs, the Bowmans say they feel blessed by the strides their daughter is making.
“It’s hard for her and it’s a struggle, but she’s trying,” said Debbie, who is divorced from Dale but moved in with him to help care for Emily together. “She definitely understands. I think she’s comprehending things. She’s really, really wanting to talk.”
Emily appeared to try to talk Friday afternoon as her mother encouraged her to say “Hey.” But as she moved her mouth, nothing came out.
“She’s chomping at the bit to say something,” Dale said.
Debbie was proud to help her daughter show off her other progress.
“Show me five fingers,” Debbie said with a smile, crouching down in front of Emily — who often lacks the strength to hold up her head — so their eyes could meet.
Emily held up five fingers.
“What is five take away two?” her mother continued.
Emily held up three fingers.
Debbie and Emily have been using the iPad for other applications that she hopes will help her comprehension skills. Woodstock-based organizations Hearts and Hands and All About Kids also come by regularly to give Emily speech and physical therapy.
Debbie said she hopes to have Emily taken to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta soon, where she could see more improvement, if they can take care of issues with their insurance company.
All their efforts seem to be helping, although it isn’t yet known exactly how much progress Emily can make.
Some doctors have estimated it could be months before that question is answered, and others are expecting a few years, Debbie said.
The Bowmans plan to keep working with their daughter to see how far they can go in 2014.
Debbie said they’re also hoping to see the case move forward against the suspected drunk driver, who allegedly hit Emily and fled the scene, William Wilson Heaton, 23, of Rydal.
Heaton surrendered to Clarke County jail March 6, weeks after the accident and the day before Emily woke up from a coma she’d been in since the incident. He was later released from jail on bond, but was required to wear an ankle monitor, court records show.
No date has been set as of yet for the trial, in which Heaton has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, though, filed Oct. 22 to have a wealth of the state’s potential evidence in the case thrown out. That included any evidence obtained from Heaton’s truck, any information taken from Facebook posts or text messages and statements about the suspect’s “general drinking habits,” court records show.
Debbie said she and Dale are anxious to see what happens in the case.
“This year’s going to be an interesting year, because I feel like something will happen this year with the case,” Debbie said.
In the meantime, they are enjoying Emily’s progress as much as they can.
“With this happening here over the last month or so, it’s just been kind of exciting for us and given us that little glimmer of hope,” Debbie said. “I’m really looking forward to 2014 to see where we can go.”
Dale, though, has to miss some of the milestones, because he recently returned to his job as a truck driver and is away from home four days a week.
“I think about her constantly on the road,” he said. But he’s always anxious to get home and hear about what he’s missed.
On Friday, he joined in with Debbie and showed some of Emily’s progress he’s seen and taken pictures to remember the moments.
One was taken on New Year’s Eve, when the Bowmans celebrated at their home. In the picture, Emily’s iPad is shown.
She wrote, “Happy New Year.”