SHERIDAN — Jen Crouse wanted to speak but physically couldn’t. She was 16 years old and laying in a hospital bed as a result of a nearly fatal car crash that paralyzed her from the chest down. Crouse was on life support and listening to a physician tell her parents that they should take her off life support.
“I could still hear my mother’s cry as I watched her place her face in her hands,” Crouse wrote in her book, “Proof God Hears Your Prayers.” “I had no way to tell them I was alert and could understand every word. I wanted to beg them not to give up on me, but I could not make a sound.”
Crouse, now the Sheridan College Foundation executive director, remained on life support and recovered after months of grueling physical rehabilitation. She had to relearn how to walk, talk, dress and bathe. It sometimes took her 30 minutes to put on a pair of pants. It got so bad, wheelchair-bound, Crouse said that at some points she didn’t want to live.
“Reality hit that I’d be sitting in this chair for the rest of my life and that was really hard,” Crouse said. “I went from praying for God to save my life to when I was in rehab, asking Him to take it.”
Crouse felt isolated and depressed at times in the hospital, but one of her nurses — also named Jennifer — helped her through the long recovery process.
“Each night instead of pleading with God that I wouldn’t wake up, I found myself talking to Jennifer,” Crouse wrote in her book. “She made me feel human again and helped me to realize life was still worth living.”
On the day that Crouse was released from the hospital, the nurse gave Crouse information on applying to college and financial aid options.
“Without her, I don’t think I would’ve ever applied to go to college or known the resources that were available,” Crouse said.
Before college, though, Crouse had to finish her final year of high school in Walsenburg, Colorado, a town in the south-central part of the state. The Americans with Disabilities Act wasn’t implemented until 1995, so the school wasn’t yet handicap-accessible, but the school made changes upon her return.
It was a huge adjustment going back to school, not only physically, but socially.
Before the car accident, the outgoing Crouse participated in many activities and was captain of the cheerleading squad. She worried about being excluded due to her wheelchair.
But Crouse said her classmates were extremely welcoming and supportive. She went on a class trip to Disneyland and remembers the senior boys carrying her onto the airplane.
After high school, Crouse graduated from Colorado State University-Pueblo with a degree in social work, the first in her family to graduate college. Afterward, Crouse was a medical social worker for a few years.
The company she worked for also paid for Crouse to receive a Master of Business Administration with an emphasis in health care management from the University of Phoenix through a hybrid of in-person and online classes. After getting her MBA, Crouse took over a management position, overseeing about 110 employees at age 26.
She then moved on to become COO and eventually CEO of a company that built rehabilitation hospitals. Crouse was in charge of talking with community members in towns where hospitals might be built, and then hiring all of the hospital’s initial employees. Crouse poured herself into her work and was an extremely diligent executive, knowing firsthand the importance of patient care.
She found her job rewarding, but it came with a price. Crouse traveled all the time to different hospital sites for meetings and interviews, causing her to miss out on raising her son. She felt like she never saw him during the first two years of his life.
Then, an opportunity presented itself in the form of the job opening at the Sheridan College Foundation. Furthermore, Crouse’s husband is from Lusk and wanted to move back to Wyoming. Crouse was hesitant at first, but after a camping trip near Sheridan, she welcomed the idea.
She accepted the job offer and the family moved to Sheridan in July 2016. In her nearly two years in Sheridan, Crouse has been impressed with the community’s generosity and willingness to welcome her and her family. Her current job differs greatly from her previous occupations in health care administration, but Crouse said she enjoys meeting with donors, students and alumni and determining how to distribute the donations given to the foundation.
Doctors questioned whether Crouse would live. Even if she did, they feared she would never talk again, but now she talks with dozens of people every day for her job and occasionally gives motivational speeches.