Laila Charley making tremendous strides rehabbing after suffering brain injury last summer

Matt Hollinshead
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Laila Charley has proven to be a walking, dribbling and shooting miracle in her unfathomably fast recovery from a near-fatal tragedy.

Just four months after Navajo Prep won the 3A state girls basketball title, the Lady Eagles guard suffered a brain injury in an all-terrain vehicle accident on July 15, 2020 and spent the next 2 1/2 months at University of New Mexico Hospital.

After Charley was able to do basic tasks like eat, walk and talk again during rehabilitation, there was more to be done.

The first made basket

Charley, who was non-verbal the first seven weeks, stepped onto an outdoor basketball court at UNMH in mid-September. She made a free throw, her first major basketball-related milestone in her recovery.

"It felt good, because shooting that far was hard," Charley recalled.

Charley was discharged from UNMH on Sept. 28, 2020, and she continued making tremendous progress.

Charley started jogging again and completed a 5-kilometer walk/run on Halloween with her father, Michael Charley, just a month after walking out of the hospital.

What happened?:Navajo Prep's Laila Charley recovering from brain injury after ATV accident near Shiprock

"I tried to run with her. I tried to keep up with her just in case she needs me to be by her side. But she ended up just kind of blowing me out, so I couldn't keep up with her anymore," Michael Charley said, laughing. "It's been a tough road for her, but she's doing good though."

Navajo Prep's Laila Charley seen here during a District 1-3A girls basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, at the Eagles Nest in Farmington, suffered a brain injury in an ATV accident on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. She was discharged from UNM hospital on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020 and has made tremendous progress through rehabilitation since then.

Laila Charley is still working on her coordination and balance through outpatient rehabilitation at San Juan Regional Medical Center, but she's also back to working on basketball-related drills such as dribbling and 3-point shooting.

This past Friday, Charley hit a 3-pointer, her second major basketball-related milestone during recovery.

"Making a 3-pointer made my day," she said. "It was very hard for me to shoot a free throw, and shooting that far was a big accomplishment for me."

Michael Charley said Laila had already spent the earlier part of last summer working on her 3-point shooting and first-step explosiveness.

Only one setback so far

A week after she returned home from UNMH, Charley had a seizure while shooting baskets. Fortunately, family members were right there with her and kept her from hitting her head on the ground.

Lillie Charley, Laila's mother, said her daughter hasn't had any subsequent seizures since then.

"Of course, I worry about her being out there when she's running, and we always make sure we have someone with her at all times," Lillie Charley said.

Navajo Prep's Laila Charley, seen here playing in the 3A girls basketball state championship game on Friday, March 13, 2020, in Albuquerque. She suffered a brain injury in an all-terrain vehicle accident near her home in Shoprock July 15.

Frustrated, yet determined

Laila Charley is trying to get back to where she was before the accident.

Having to relearn how to shoot and dribble a basketball, she said it's been challenging to stay the course.

"Around last week, I was thinking about giving up because I was sad about the position I was in," Charley said.

But she kept at it, and she's still stepping onto a court whenever she can to continue her rehab.

"She's come a long ways from the time she was in the hospital. And at least basketball-wise, she's come a long ways," Michael Charley said. "All the things she's gone through, it's unbelievable where she's at now. She's an inspiration to me."

Charley's taking this current school year off to focus on her recovery, which still involves multiple physical therapy sessions, but plans to finish up her senior year at Navajo Prep in the fall.

Lillie Charley said Laila had the option go to back to Shiprock High, which she attended before transferring to Navajo Prep in 2018, because she'd need to complete just two more classes this semester to graduate from SHS. Ultimately, she decided to continue her rehab and return to Prep this fall.

More:San Juan County saw its moments of championship glory in season cut short due to COVID-19

The next major step

The Charley family is petitioning with the New Mexico Activities Association to determine whether Laila can complete her senior season during the 2021-2022 campaign on medical grounds — essentially like when a college athlete is granted a medical redshirt season following a season-ending injury.

"It'd mean the complete world to me to play again on the court," Laila Charley said. "I'm really determined to get back to the place I was at."

Matt Hollinshead covers sports and business for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577, and on Twitter at @MattH_717.

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