Chad Rowland and his wife Nicole Flynn-Rowland, of Princeton, expressed thankfulness that their daughter Chelsea is still with them after she had a serious head injury in an auto accident nearly two months ago.
Chelsea, 16, was in the front passenger seat of a compact car northbound on Highway 169 about a mile north of the
Princeton interchange with Highway 95 the morning of Dec. 9 when the driver lost control of the vehicle on the icy highway. The car careened down a slope, coming to rest against a tree on the passenger side of the vehicle.
The driver, Amanda Whitcomb, 20, was uninjured, as was Whitcomb’s child in the back seat. All three were wearing seat belts.
Chelsea hit her head and was pinned inside the vehicle. Firefighters had to cut much of the car apart to extricate Chelsea from the vehicle. She was then flown by helicopter to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.
Seven weeks at hospital
Chelsea was kept at North Memorial for seven weeks. Her first week was in the medical center’s neuro-intensive care unit, and her next approximately two weeks were in the regular intensive care unit. She spent the remaining time in the medical center’s rehabilitation section.
Nicole Flynn-Rowland said Chelsea was in a coma in the beginning and began coming out of it four days after the accident. Chelsea’s eyes were open at that point, but they were dilated and “she was drooling,” Flynn-Rowland remembers. Christmas Day was the start of Chelsea’s “full fledged wake-up,” she said.
“There was nothing the medical staff could do except prevent blood clots and make sure she could breathe,” Flynn-Rowland added. As for predicting at that time what Chelsea’s recovery might be, no one knew, she said.
Flynn-Rowland said Chelsea was walking with the assistance of two people the day after Christmas and talking.
“That was the most amazing thing,” Flynn-Rowland said. Chad Rowland added that Chelsea was upset about not having a typical Christmas. She asked how Chad and Nicole’s son, Alex, was doing and also asked about their cat, Cocoa.
Rowland noted that Chelsea became spirited enough that she was teasing the nurses and her therapists at North Memorial, telling them they would have to pay her 25 cents for every time they were late for an appointed session. Chelsea collected $1.50 from that.
Chelsea was being home-schooled and was in the 10th grade prior to the accident. Rowland and Flynn-Rowland said that because of the effects of Chelsea’s brain trauma, she will now have to extend her time in that grade level.
Chelsea has had to relearn basic academic subjects and relearn personal care tasks like pulling on socks and tying shoes. She has also been getting memory training and is regularly receiving physical therapy, speech help and occupational therapy. Flynn-Rowland said that Chelsea’s right arm has a fraction of the strength of her left arm at this time.
A person who hasn’t met Chelsea before might think she looks as fine as ever, but for family members who know her well, she still has a long road to recovery, Rowland said.
Chelsea, for years, had been in a dance group in Florida that danced in many places including Disney World. She could do toe dancing like a ballerina, Chelsea’s grandmother, Kathy Flynn, said.
While not back to normal, Chelsea has had remarkable recovery for what she went through, Flynn-Rowland said, noting that Chelsea had symptoms of paralysis on her right side in the early days after the accident.
Besides her dancing background, Chelsea has been a volunteer at Andy and Teri’s Second Chance pet store in Princeton, has job shadowed at the Grow With Us child care center and has been a youth team leader in the career exploration program at the Family Pathways teen center in Princeton.
Chelsea has been interested in pursuing a nursing career and her experience at North Memorial has intensified that interest.
Chelsea, speaking on Jan. 28 at home, said she was awake enough at the accident site to recognize the sound of the helicopter that was landing. But she said she didn’t think it was for her.
Rowland was in the north metro area at the time of the accident, heading for his job, then with Central Minnesota Tree Service in Maple Grove, when he received the phone call about the accident.
Flynn, who is Flynn-Rowland’s mother and lives in Milaca, also got the call from her daughter and went to Fairview Northland Medical Center, where she and Flynn-Rowland met up just in case Chelsea would be taken there. Rowland said that when he arrived at the hospital his wife was a “mess emotionally” and he had to keep himself together and call the supervisors at his workplace and at hers to explain what happened.
Chelsea was not brought to Fairview Northland because she needed to go to a trauma center. Rowland, Flynn-Rowland and Flynn and pastor friend, Jeff Smith, went to North Memorial once they knew Chelsea was being taken there.
When they arrived, Chelsea was in the emergency department, where she was on life support equipment. Rowland said that they were later informed by a doctor that a CT scan showed blood had collected on the top of Chelsea’s brain.
Rowland and Flynn-Rowland expressed surprise that she has recovered as well as she has and were surprised she didn’t have any broken bones.
The medical bills
Along with helping Chelsea continue recovery, the family faces the challenge of high medical bills. Flynn-Rowland has been unable to work at her job with an insurance company since the accident, and thus has not had the money to pay the premiums for the health insurance, she said. She said the COBRA premiums she would have to pay to continue the employer’s health insurance coverage are not affordable for the family.
Rowland estimates that the medical bills from Chelsea’s accident have reached more than $1 million and that the costs have exceeded the coverage from the auto insurance.
Rowland did get some time off with pay from his employer and was thankful for that. He has taken a job now with Mark’s Sewer Service in the local area, finding it more convenient to be close to home for his work.
Family members and friends, including at the teen center, are organizing a benefit to help the family with medical expenses. A benefit fund has also been set up in the name of Chelsea M. Flynn at Bremer Bank.
The benefit will be at 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, at the Neighbors Eatery & Saloon in Princeton. A spaghetti dinner will be served for $6 per person (beverages extra), and there will also be a silent auction.
Organizers are looking into the possibility of adding a live auction, depending on the amount of donated items.
To donate to the auction or for more information, call Samantha at 763-242-2239 or Kathy at 320-983-3495.