Defying the Odds

Alum overcomes brain injuries and publishes children’s books


By Mattie Hjelseth

Wendy Muhlhauser, ’90, has always dreamed about being an actress. After receiving her theater arts degree from the University of North Dakota in 1990, she moved to New York City to pursue that dream.

After just over a year working in the Big Apple, in August of 1992, it all came to a tragic halt when Muhlhauser was struck by a car during her lunch break.

“I got launched in the air, my head beat the ground and I was left for dead. I don’t know how cars didn’t keep running over me,” remembered Muhlhauser.

Despite going through such a traumatic life experience, she never gave up hope. She pushed through a severe brain injury, chronic migraines, great difficulty reading, writing and other symptoms while focusing on getting back on her feet. She rose above five more concussions.

“I am always grateful that my brain kept getting stronger, and I came back when doctors told me I wouldn’t when I got to the higher number of concussions,” said Muhlhauser.

Though her life changed forever that day, she said she now realizes she is meant to use her tragedy to help others. “It was no longer about me seeking attention. It was how do I get better and how do I serve,” said Muhlhauser.

“Poetry, for me as a brain injured person, was something that was helping me access my vocabulary and my intellect again,” Muhlhauser said. She also saw that same connection for children.

Feeling called to help youth learn through play with a rhyming book, she wrote and published, ‘Jelly Beans the Cheetah and Hope.’

She’s chosen to write her books under the pen name SissyMarySue to give her books confidence and familiarity to her readers, like Dr. Seuss has with his books. “I have this desire to help others to know they aren’t alone,” Muhlhauser said.

“This is such a surprising direction. I had no idea that this is where I was supposed to be. No idea that I would be a children’s book author,” said Muhlhauser.

Her journey of being a children’s author is far from over. “I’m not ever stopping,” Muhlhauser laughs. She has not only continued with her book series and wrote a second, 5-star rated book in the ‘Jelly Beans the Cheetah and Hope’ series called ‘Empathy Airlines,’ she also has two other books in the works. Along with creating the first book into a musical play, using her UND theater arts degree to her advantage.

She dedicated her second book to ‘all the world’s youth’ saying “this book is uniquely yours; you are my ultimate inspiration!”

It’s meaningful work that Muhlhauser said she’ll keep on doing, beating the odds with any challenges.

One of her biggest accomplishments isn’t her books or her career, she said it’s her son, Connor Willgohs.