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Critically injured 11-year-old girl making dramatic recovery

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Illa Nichols is seen in a family photo about 7 weeks after the accident that critically injured her.

AUBURN, Wash. - The 11-year-old girl who was critically injured when a minivan hit her in front of an Auburn school seven weeks ago is making a remarkable recovery, doctors say.

Illa Nichols, 11, was crossing the street in front of Camelot Elementary School when she was hit Sept. 14 by a minivan whose driver was blinded by the glare from the rising sun and didn't see the girl. She was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center with life-threatening injuries, went into a coma and was placed on a respirator.

Illa regained consciousness about two weeks after the accident, but doctors said at the time she would likely remain hospitalized for at least six months recuperating from her injuries, including a serious brain injury.

Yet seven weeks later she is already back home.

Illa's mother, Jennifer Nichols, told KOMO News Wednesday that her daughter's recovery has amazed them all and that she's now walking and eating on her own.

Although Illa still has months or years of therapy ahead of her, the hope is that she will soon be able to return to school - at least part time.

"She has made an amazing recovery," says her mom. "She is very strong-willed, and she just didn't want to be (in the hospital) any more, so she worked, worked, worked to get out of there."

But Illa still has a long road ahead restoring her mental abilities. She will turn 12 on Friday, but cognitively she is functioning only at a 6-year-old level due to her brain injury, says her mother.

"As well as she's done, they say they're hoping for a full recovery - but they won't know anything for at least a year," says Jennifer. "She can't really show emotion, so she hasn't cried or gotten angry. ... But the little quirky things that she used to do, she still does, so that makes me happy."

Despite the long process of recovery still ahead, Illa's mom is grateful that her daughter is alive and back home.

And she's also very thankful for the support she and her family have received from the community.

"It is really cool to see that the community has come together to support her," Jennifer says. "People that have never even met her come over to our house to say 'Hi' and 'Glad she's home.'"

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A GoFundMe site has been set up to help the family with mushrooming medical expenses. And a fundraiser to help the family is taking place all day Wednesday at the Buffalo Wild Wings at Southcenter.