Ford City woman overcomes serious injuries to earn college degree

| Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 12:41 a.m.

Bethany Frerotte is proof that dreams and goals do not have to be abandoned when life deals you a terrible blow. It is possible to survive, to succeed, and, like Frerotte, to excel.

Frerotte received her bachelor of arts degree on Saturday from Carlow University in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

This accomplishment is more than a total of grades earned over the past three years. It is more than the distinction of earning high honors in her studies. It is a victory over an injury that could have kept her out of school entirely.

“I want to help other brain injury survivors realize that they, too, can achieve,” Bethany says. “They just have to find their own way.”

The daughter of Bruce and Deborah Frerotte of Greenville and formerly of Ford City, Bethany was living and working in San Francisco when her life took a treacherous turn.

While in Utah, visiting family, Frerotte was in a serious motor vehicle accident. She was hospitalized with numerous injuries, including a broken neck and collapsed lung.

The head trauma Frerotte sustained would send her into a coma for seven weeks.

Although she spent four months in the acute care hospital, Frerotte has no recollection of her experiences there.

She was then transferred to a second facility, primarily for long-term care.

“This is where I kept falling out of bed,” she says, “so, they took the bed away and put the mattress on the floor.”

This furniture rearrangement achieved its goal of safe sleeping and is still practiced at times, depending on the environment.

Frerotte headed east after a third round of treatment in a rehab hospital and then she came back to Pennsylvania.

Many more months would be spent in rehabilitation — physical, occupational and speech therapies, but it was found that travel from Greenville to her medical providers in Pittsburgh was not realistic.

“Gram's”, the Ford City home of maternal grandmother, Beuhlah Mitchell, became Bethany's base of operations.

“She's come a long, long way,” says Gram. “I'm just so proud of her.”

As Frerotte's stamina and overall function improved, she adjusted her goals, finding new challenges.

She ultimately returned to the classroom, taking a few courses at IUP Northpointe, and succeeding.

“I went part time for a year,” she says. “I got A's in those classes and decided that maybe I could complete my undergraduate degree.”

She could and she did.

Living on campus for three years as a full-time student, Frerotte channeled her energies into her studies.

“I was able to have my own room in the dorm, which was convenient,” Frerotte explains. “Some of my classes were just several doors away.”

Campus life agreed with this non-traditional student, but was not without its non-traditional challenges.

Although she has many friends, meeting people and developing those friendships were difficult at times. “I wouldn't remember faces,” she says.

Accepting the fruits of her labors, especially in art, also is difficult.

“I'm not the artist I used to be. I would spend three times as long on an art project and it would end up looking like a child's.” Frerotte goes on, “I'm more comfortable in my art making skills now.”

Other issues such as high-maintenance hair and shaky gait were more easily remedied with simple solutions ‚ a short haircut, quality shoes and a cane as needed when on unfamiliar turf. Otherwise, Frerotte now navigates the Carlow campus without devices.

Frerotte plans to take some time post-graduation to relax, then, it's off and running on more unfamiliar turf, which will include, she thinks, another college campus for graduate work in art therapy.

No further speculation is needed, as Bethany's Gram says: “If she wants it, she's going to do it. She's an amazing girl.”

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