While there may never be a happily-ever-after ending for Ana Paula Bussmann, family members and friends said Tuesday marked the most recent triumph in a long line of miracles spanning the last five months.
Bussmann, a 22-year-old who sustained traumatic brain injuries after being hit by a car driven by an intoxicated driver Jan. 25, traveled home Tuesday to Curitiba, Brazil.
Amid well-wishers, hugs and tears, she left Salt Lake City International Airport at 11 a.m. with her parents, Joao and Maria Helena Bussmann, and a Brazilian nurse, Susi Rimkus. The Utah Children's Choir sang to Bussmann as she sat in her wheelchair before boarding her Delta Airlines flight.
Bussmann, who is now speaking three words and several names, cried as she kissed her friend, Tim Hughes, on the cheek.
Joao and Maria Bussmann hugged some of the friends they've made during the last five months as their daughter recovered. They thanked those who helped with the medical bills, plane tickets, lodging, food and prayers, said Gary Neeleman, Utah's de facto Brazilian consul and friend to the Bussmann family.
"Before boarding, Ana's dad said, 'Ultimately, no matter how this turns out, I can say that I haven't wasted a minute in this city,' " Neeleman said. "He then said, 'I leave here with a heavy heart because it's like leaving family.' "
Bussmann, who came to Salt Lake City to find work during the winter, has spent much of the last five months in a "persistent vegetative state," according to her medical records.
"But at the airport, her eyes were alive, which is the first time they've been like that since her accident," Neeleman said.
Joao and Maria Bussmann came to Salt Lake City shortly after their daughter's accident and "have only left the hospital to sleep at night," Neeleman said.
During their five-month stay, Joao and Maria began listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Shortly before they boarded the plane Tuesday, Neeleman gave the couple a tape of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's rendition of "Climb Every Mountain."
After Neeleman translated the title of the song, Maria said, "That's where we are right now."
"You never know what the end will be," Neeleman said. "But the journey has been a very gratifying experience because of the people involved."