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Friends, Relatives Cheer Amanda at 18

Recovery: Birthday wish for crash victim who came out of coma: 'I want to go home.' She continues to improve at neuro care center.

September 12, 1997|STEVE CARNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COWAN HEIGHTS — Amanda Arthur celebrated her 18th birthday Thursday with dozens of friends and family, a catered dinner, gifts, roses, balloons and a birthday cake from the producers of her favorite TV show.

But the Newport Harbor High School cheerleader, who awoke from an 11-week coma just four weeks ago, still wishes for one thing.

"I want to go home," she whispered Thursday, in a voice still hoarse from the May 23 car crash.

But her bright, lively eyes and radiant smile indicate how far she has progressed.

"It's her," said Breean Carter, 16, a fellow cheerleader. "When she was just saying, like, one word, it was sad. We missed her still."

But the familiar laugh has returned, the one they hadn't heard since before the crash, when a speeding Chevrolet Blazer filled with 10 kids overturned, critically injuring Amanda and killing an 18-year-old classmate, Donald Bridgman.

And aspects of her character reappear as Amanda improves: the comic, the good student, the conscientious cheerleader captain, the flirt.

"She just cracks us up. She tells us funny things," said Tiffani Amaya, 17, a senior cheerleader. "She asks to see boys all the time."

"She wants us to bring them to her," Carter added at the patio party at Meridian Neuro Care Center here.

Doctors and physical therapists here have worked with Amanda since she was transferred from Western Medical Center-Santa Ana on June 30.

But Thursday night, the attire was little black dresses, not hospital scrubs, as relatives and friends from school hovered around Amanda, laughed and took photos.

On a corner table lay a sheet cake the size of a school desk, with birthday greetings "from all of us at 'Beverly Hills 90210,' " Amanda's favorite show. In addition to the cake, other birthday gifts included a wool 90210 letterman's jacket, caps, a towel, a T-shirt and a promise from producer Aaron Spelling. She gets a limousine ride to the set of the show to meet her favorite stars as soon as she feels up to it.

Amanda's mother, Chris Maese, never doubted the family would get to celebrate the special day.

"I knew that she was going to be OK. I knew she was going to recover 100%," she said. "I'm grateful that I can celebrate another birthday."

But Maese credits her daughter's determination and the support and prayers of friends and family with getting Amanda to where she is today.

"Mandy wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Jesus," she said.

Amanda's cheerleading coach, Lisa Callahan, said she visits her co-captain every day, and practices cheers with her as a form of therapy.

"It's fun. It's an addiction," she said. "She looks forward to having us come, and we look forward to being here."

Callahan noted that Amanda is starting to walk a little, is eager to return to school, remembers her cheers, is laughing and talking more.

"She's very persistent, that's the big thing," she said. "She wants to go home."

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