Injured Mongolian woman heads home after remarkable recovery

Mongolian woman beats injuries, thanks to family, region's kindness

By PAUL GRONDAHL Staff writer

ALBANY -- Uranjargal Dovdonpurev is going home to Mongolia, the final leg of a remarkable journey of recovery.

It took a village of hospital staff, volunteer therapists, financial donors and well-wishers across the Capital Region to restore mind, body and spirit of the visiting college student who came to Lake George last summer to work.

Doctors were not sure if Urna, as she is known, would survive the catastrophic injuries after she was struck by a drug-impaired driver while she walked along Route 9 in Queensbury on July 3, 2010.

Her mother received a call in Mongolia that said her 22-year-old daughter was dead. At the scene, paramedics struggled to revive her before she was airlifted by helicopter to Albany Medical Center Hospital.

Urna spent three months in a coma and had to re-learn how to walk, talk, dress and feed herself as a result of a traumatic brain injury.

In the hospital, she was treated for compound fractures of both legs and other grave injuries. Surgeons drained a pool of blood from her cranium and removed a piece of her damaged skull. Long months of intensive therapies lay ahead.

"It's miraculous how far she has come," said Debbie Ross, house manager at the Ronald McDonald House in Albany, where Urna lived with her mother and brother for more than five months during her recovery.

Urna and her family left Albany on Monday and flew from New York City to Korea, where they planned to stay for a few days before continuing to Mongolia. Her injuries forced her to cancel a planned fall semester last year to attend a university in France on a Fulbright scholarship.

She and her family prepared a special Mongolian meal Friday night at the Ronald McDonald House to thank staff, volunteers and others who befriended Urna and helped her heal.

"She cried a lot, thanked everyone and told us how grateful she was for what we had done for her," Ross said.

Urna's mother, Baasanjav Chimidbaldir, a retired municipal judge, oversaw her daughter's multiple therapies. Her brother, Amartaivan, 21, who took a leave from his studies at a university in Korea, was crucial to Urna's recovery. Early on, when she fell into a screaming fit or uncontrolled tantrum as a result of her brain injury, her brother picked her up in his arms and rocked her like a baby. He soothed her when she was despondent and encouraged her to work hard to regain what she had lost. He accompanied her on dozens of therapy visits and helped her continue therapy exercises between sessions.

"He literally stopped his life for the past year to take care of his sister," said James Linnan, the family's attorney. "He was completely devoted and incredibly patient with her."

Last week, to illustrate her progress, her brother had Urna jog along the sidewalk in front of the Ronald McDonald House. He followed close behind to catch her if she fell. They both laughed with joy as they ran. Just a few months before, she could not take a step on her own.

With her brother's daily encouragement and help, she progressed from working on six-piece puzzles to completing 100-piece puzzles. He also helped her regain some proficiency in English and Mongolian, and is working to help her recover three additional languages in which she had been fluent.

"Her brother was so driven to help Urna heal. He took her out for a walk every day in the winter regardless of the weather," Ross said. "It was beautiful to watch the two of them work together."

The family is stopping in Korea to re-file paperwork her brother will need in order to resume his university studies. They will then return to their home in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar. The family is of modest means and has no private health insurance. Her father is a middle school shop teacher. Urna is the second oldest of her parents' five children.

The driver of the car, Joseph Nunez, 35, of Lake Luzerne, a pizza delivery man, was high on crack cocaine and marijuana when his car jumped a curb and struck Urna as she walked with a friend in a shopping strip parking lot. He pleaded guilty to five felony charges and was sentenced to 4 to 12 years in sate prison and ordered to make $782,878 in restitution for the victim's medical bills. Two insurance policies totaling $100,000 were paid to Albany Med, but that covered only a small fraction of nearly $800,000 in medical fees.

Urna's Mongolian friend and classmate at a university in Turkey, Oyun-Erdene Erdene, 21, was also struck by Nunez's car. She suffered a concussion and multiple leg fractures and was released from Albany Med in October.

Linnan filed a civil lawsuit against the pizza shop's owner, but was not able to recover any additional damages for Urna and her family because of an exclusion clause in the owner's insurance policy.

But dozens of local residents from Lake George to Albany and beyond donated $18,000 to Urna and her family through the Ronald McDonald House. The money helped cover transportation and visits to therapists, many of which were donated or provided at a significantly reduced rate.

There were tears, hugs and long goodbyes on Monday.

"We've been so touched by all the kindness that has been shown to us," Urna's mother said through an interpreter.

Reach Paul Grondahl at 454-5623 or .

Uranjargal "Urna" Dovdonpurev, 23, of Mongolia, at right and her mother Baasanjav Chimidbaldir await a visit from the Mongolian ambassador at the Ronald McDonald House in Albany in Jan. 18. Urna was struck by a car driven by a drug-addled driver in Queensbury on July 3. After a long, remarkable recovery, she's on her way home. (John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union)



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