WALNUT CREEK -- People who saw Sheng Hahn in the moments after a pickup truck driver veered onto the sidewalk and slammed into her cannot believe her recovery over the past month.
Nor can her husband of four months, who is documenting it in an online journal.
Casey Hahn, who in an instant lost his mother and almost also lost his college sweetheart, put it this way in a recent post:
"She had her first words spoken since the accident after they placed a valve on her throat tube. The doctors and I were ecstatic and it was great to hear her voice for the first time in weeks."
Casey Hahn hasn't spent much time away from his wife's John Muir Medical Center hospital bed since the Sept. 8 crash that killed his mother, 52-year-old Sherry Hicks, and left his wife with injuries severe enough it was first feared there may have been significant brain damage.
In a remarkable turnaround, the 23-year-old moved from intensive and progressive care units to rehab this past week, can enjoy her favorite milk tea and is writing and speaking, even translating for her parents and grandmother, who traveled from their native China with emergency visas. The progress is documented in a series of online entries titled "Sheng Hahn's Journal" at caringbridge.org.
On Thursday, Julie Scheibner saw Hahn for the first time since she sat with her on North Main Street until medics arrived.
"It's like seeing a rag doll turn into a human being, if that even makes sense, with a million-dollar smile," said Scheibner, who washed Hahn's hair during her visit to the hospital. "She was a broken doll. She was broken everywhere."
Scheibner, a bartender at the Marriott Hotel, was getting off her shift on Sept. 8 when people ran inside the hotel lobby yelling frantically for help. Moments earlier, a driver had struck Sheng Hahn and Hicks as they walked with Casey Hahn and Hicks' husband on the sidewalk in front of the hotel.
Police identified the driver as 53-year-old Hossein Tabrizi, of Walnut Creek. He was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter but was released from jail after police did not submit charges to prosecutors within 72 hours after the arrest, as required by law.
Authorities say the investigation continues; police can submit a case to prosecutors at a later date.
Sheng Hahn entered the hospital with what was considered significant brain trauma, a weak left side and no memory of the accident, her 23-year-old husband wrote in the online journal.
Within weeks, he said her brain strengthened, she remembered the accident and was alert enough to write notes to nurses and family. On Oct. 7, he wrote about her first days in rehab, learning to walk again.
"Her mom gets worried and runs to Sheng to hold her, but this angers Sheng and she will tell her mom to give her space," he wrote. "She stood with the support of a walker yesterday and was allowed to bear limited weight on her right leg for the first time."
She tore two ligaments in her right knee, he added.
The young couple married this past summer after graduating from the UC Santa Barbara, and moved to an apartment on North Main Street after he got a job in San Francisco.
"To get to where she has gotten thus far speaks a lot to her strength," said brother-in-law Justin Etherton. "She was not in good shape coming into there. You can only imagine. She's made a remarkable recovery thus far. She still has a very, very long road to go."
Etherton has set up a fundraising account to help pay for the couple's mounting medical bills, which have reached $1 million, according to Etherton. Anyone wishing to donate can visit www.youcaring.com and search for "shenghahn."
Scheibner, too, is throwing a fundraiser on Sunday at 7 p.m. at The Office Lounge, 1796 Willow Pass Road in Concord. The event costs $15 per person.
"It's just a terrible thing to move to a new community and not have support," said Scheibner. "So that's why I stepped forward."
Contact David DeBolt at 925-943-8048. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.
What: Fundraiser for Sheng Hahn
When: Sunday, Oct. 14, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Where: The Office Lounge, 1796 Willow Pass Road, Concord
Cost: $15 per person