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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

A&M prof returns after accident

Texas A&M mechanical engineering professor Ozden Ochoa has something special to be thankful for this new year: her life.
Ochoa was hit by a drunk driver on Nov. 22 in Dayton, Ohio, while working on a two-year research assignment as a senior scientist with the Wright Patterson Air Force Base Research Laboratory. She left her apartment around 7 p.m. to see Dayton’s Harmonic Symphony in concert when the driver of an SUV failed to stop at a t-intersection.
“I do not remember even seeing him,” said Ochoa, who said she could not remember anything between the time of her accident and Dec. 2.
In fact, Ochoa was not identified until Nov. 24, when her friends and boyfriend Henry Geneczko arrived at the hospital.
“The hardest thing was that they didn’t know who I was,” Ochoa said. “It’s the typical Jane Doe story.”
The most serious of Ochoa’s injuries were a 14-inch wound on the side of her head and a punctured intestine. Doctors left her body open from Nov. 22-25 to repair damage to the intestine and to prevent infection. To do this, they subjected her to medically-induced paralysis, which left her unable to move for four days.
“It is incredible to me because not knowing anything for 12 days, it’s a pure example of the grace of God,” Ochoa said. “If I would have known of my condition, I might have had a heart attack on the spot.”
During treatment, Ochoa’s heart stopped and one of her lungs collapsed, but doctors managed to stabilize her. She underwent three surgeries and spent 12 days in ICU before being released from the hospital Dec. 15.
Since being released, Ochoa has moved back to College Station and spent time with Geneczko, who took an unpaid leave of six weeks from a job in Florida. The two had originally planned to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania on Jan. 1, but friends threw Ochoa a surprise 50th birthday party instead.
“All the support and prayers helped me get through it all,” Ochoa said.
“At one point I had monks, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians all lifting me up in prayer. Such things you never dream of.”
At the time of her accident, Ochoa had been training for the Walt Disney World marathon – her third race. Ochoa said she feels fortunate to have been in such good shape.
“Had I not been in the shape that I was in, I might not have made it,” Ochoa said.
She now walks three miles every day and hopes to complete the upcoming LaHoya 5K. Ochoa has been attending rehabilitation three times a week to repair muscle damage – specifically nerve damage to her left leg – but she hopes to fully recover by the end of February. In the meantime, she says she will continue to work on her research via teleconference and will spend time with friends who have helped her through her recovery.
“I think Dr. Ochoa has been an outstanding teacher who cares deeply about her students,” said Walter Bradley, A&M professor emeritus of mechanical engineering and longtime friend of Ochoa. “I think it’s amazing to go through what she has gone through and be able to survive and make such a rapid recovery. It makes me furious that innocent people are often killed or maimed for life by careless and irresponsible behavior.”
A grand jury trial will begin this week in the case against the SUV driver, but Ochoa has no intention of attending. She says she will accept whatever punishment the legal system provides but that she hopes her story will warn people about drinking and driving.
“We should emphasize that drinking and driving don’t go together. Real lives are lost in the process,” she said.
Although she said the near-death experience did not change her life in any significant way, she said she is glad to be alive.
“She’s a beautiful lady that is very generous to all people and dedicated to whatever she pursues,” Geneczko said. “The pain caused by the uncertainty of her survival should make people think about drinking and driving.”

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