Archived Story

Holte improving at one-year mark

Published 10:58am Tuesday, October 9, 2012 Updated 1:17pm Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It was one year ago today that a two-car crash on State Highway 210 permanently changed the lives of many residents and families in Otter Tail County. From Fergus Falls to Dalton to Battle Lake, the effects of the accident have continued to ripple through medical recoveries and court cases and coping with irretrievable loss.

However, Lisa and Blaine Ecker, the mother and stepfather of 20-year-old Kaylee Holte, are choosing to look on the crash anniversary as an occasion for celebration, not mourning.

“From a year ago to today is basically a celebration of life for Kaylee,” said Lisa.

On Oct. 9, 2011 around 2:30 a.m., vehicles driven by Aimee Magnusson, then 18, of Fergus Falls, and Sasha Parker, then 24, of Battle Lake, collided at the intersection of 210 and County Highway 33, just east of Fergus Falls.

The accident left 15-year-old Dalton resident Skylah Oksness dead and seven others injured – none as critically as Kaylee, who received a traumatic injury to the right side of her brain, drastically affecting her motor skills and speech. For a time, the Eckers and Holte’s father Donald didn’t know if Kaylee would make it.

“Once they quit telling us that she may not be here tomorrow, that was the first step,” said Blaine.

For the first few months of her recovery, Kaylee was moved between different hospitals as doctors sought to stabilize her and begin helping her on the road to recovery. She has since settled in to the PioneerCare Center, and the Eckers said that’s a great place for her for now, praising both the proximity to their home and the care by the staff.

Though they said Kaylee often vocalizes and makes rudimentary interactions with those around her, the Eckers explained that Kaylee is still in a coma, albeit one that she has at least partial awareness in. Making people understand Kaylee’s condition is a hard task for the Eckers, who said that many people hear “coma” and think that Kaylee is completely unconscious – and that if she “woke up,” she would suddenly return to normal.

“It’s not like the movies,” said Lisa.

However, Kaylee has made significant progress. She is now able to sit in a wheelchair instead of just lie in a hospital bed, she’s been well enough for the Eckers to take her for home visits, and she regularly undergoes physical, occupational and speech therapy. Such exercises attempt to reintroduce actions like standing, arm movements and swallowing – anything that might ultimately bring some autonomy back to Kaylee’s life.

Doctors have told the Eckers that there are many possibilities in Kaylee’s recovery, thanks in part to the fact that the left side of her brain still works well. Speech and eating are two areas in which the Eckers are hopeful that Kaylee can rebound. The couple continues to pray and “keep the FAITH,” the phrase they always sign off with on Kaylee’s CaringBridge website.

“She’s a very strong girl, and she’s very determined,” said Blaine.

The family has been helped by continued community interest and support. Lisa, who still spends much of each day at PioneerCare with Kaylee, said that people still ask her about her daughter every time she goes out.

“That goes a long way helping us,” said Blaine.

As the second year after the accident begins, the Eckers will continue to focus on the positive and set goals for what they’d like to see Kaylee accomplish. They’d like to be rid of the feeding tube by the end of Year Two, and they’d count hearing Kaylee speak again, even in a limited fashion, as a huge accomplishment. Most of all, they don’t want to limit what their special girl is capable of.

“I think she’s made more progress (this year) than I thought she would,” said Lisa.

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