Answered prayers: Van Ede family is thankful for support following July crash

Nov. 23—WORTHINGTON — Olivia Van Ede was a backseat passenger in a truck that was involved in a fatal two-vehicle crash at a rural intersection near St. Killian on July 6. She was later told that first responders found her underneath the dashboard of the truck, unresponsive with an as-yet-unknown number of broken bones.

Today, just four months later, the 17-year-old is walking and talking. Unless you were aware of her seemingly constant lower back pain and lingering signs of a traumatic brain injury — the frequent headaches and short-term memory loss — you might not even know that doctors thought she had less than a 50% chance of surviving.

Olivia and her younger brother, Sam, were passengers in a truck headed for Edgerton. They were on their way to a funeral for Olivia and Sam's uncle. Their parents, Rochelle and John, meanwhile, were headed toward Edgerton from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, when they received a call that their two youngest were involved in a crash.

Rochelle had picked up John from the Sioux Falls V.A.'s Community Living Center, where he was a patient for wound management and therapy. John suffered a stroke four years ago, in which he lost the use of his left arm and hand, and has reduced strength in his left leg.

The two weren't quite to Luverne when they learned their two youngest children were involved in a crash.

"Olivia wouldn't wake up," Rochelle recalled being told. "When I heard about the crash, my heart just felt like it was outside my body.

"I was praying to God, please don't take my babies."

Knowing they were in the vicinity of St. Killian because of the Life 360 app Rochelle uses to keep track of her kids, Rochelle had John call her son Kody, who lives just outside of Worthington, to have him drive to the scene.

"I knew I wouldn't get to them," Rochelle said, adding that by the time Kody arrived, Olivia was already in an ambulance. Kody then realized Sam was also a passenger and was overcome with fear and worry. Sam was alert but in severe pain with a broken jaw in two places, a broken hand and lacerations on his arms and face from the broken glass. At the hospital, they discovered he also had a brain bleed.

Rochelle decided to drive to Worthington, rather than the crash site, but before they reached Adrian, Kody called to say they were transporting Olivia by air ambulance to Sioux Falls. Sam, too, was ultimately taken by air ambulance to Sioux Falls.

Coaxed by Kody to get to Sioux Falls to meet Olivia there, Rochelle and John turned around once again and headed west. Rochelle was still praying, crying — even yelling.

"I started crying again and begging God," she said. "I had a lot of anger in my mind and fear. I was slamming my hands on the steering wheel."

They reached the Sanford hospital in Sioux Falls, only to wait nearly an hour for Olivia's arrival. Sam arrived by air ambulance about half an hour after his sister.

As parents, Rochelle and John were taken to a spiritual care room to wait for word on their kids' conditions. There, they were joined by Rochelle's parents and the rest of their family.

Olivia was sedated and placed on a ventilator as they performed scans to identify all of her injuries. She had three crushed vertebrae in her spine (two in her neck and one in her lower back), two brain bleeds, six broken ribs, a lacerated liver, collapsed lung, bruised kidney and a laceration just below her right eye.

It was close to three hours before Rochelle and John were able to see their daughter. It felt like forever.

They'd already seen Sam when he arrived at the ER, and while he was "pretty out of it," they could see he would eventually be OK, physically.

When they saw Olivia, though, they were sure of nothing.

"There was many nights where I would just sit by her side and pray and hold her hand and ask God to heal her," Rochelle shared. "I said, 'God is healing you so you just keep resting. You're being so strong and the doctors are saying you're doing so good.

"You're going to get better and I have faith that God is going to get you through this," she added. "That's what I would tell her over and over."

Olivia remained comatose for nearly five weeks. As she slowly drew out of sedation, her eyes opened and moved around the room.

"Even when she started waking up a bit, I didn't know if she knew who I was — recognized me or my voice," Rochelle said. "We were all worried — family and friends — about whether she would recognize us."

Throughout her hospital stay, Olivia was cared for by several different doctors. Rochelle said while the first two were pretty positive about Olivia's condition, the third one looked Rochelle in the eyes and said, "Pray, pray, pray."

She'd already been doing lots of that — and it wasn't just her. Several times she would take to Caring Bridge to ask people to pray for Olivia, whether it was for her temperature to return to normal or for her body to stop shaking.

Olivia was lifted up in prayer by family, friends, church congregations — communities.

When that third doctor said Olivia would have severe brain damage, Rochelle said she refused to acknowledge it.

"I thought, 'No. God's going to heal her.' I just knew it."

Rochelle's faith became the family's strength. When John became depressed and said he wished he could take his daughter's place, Rochelle said he couldn't think like that — he needed to be strong for Olivia and pray.

"As long as God keeps her here with us, I don't care (about her injuries)," Rochelle recalled, saying she promised God, "I'll take care of her for the rest of my life. I want her here with us — no matter what."

While Olivia doesn't remember anything about the crash or the weeks she was sedated, she remembers that after she was finally able to speak, she'd look at her visitors, smile and say, "I'm a miracle."

"Her face was lit up," Rochelle said. "She knew she was a miracle. She would just repeat herself over and over."

Rochelle knew it was the traumatic brain injury that caused her daughter to repeat herself, but she told her oldest daughter, Kassi, "If this is all the better she gets, I don't care. I love it — I'll take her this way."

Once Olivia was on the road to recovery, her breathing tube was removed for a trach and feeding tube. Initially, Rochelle was told her daughter might have that for up to three weeks, but she was shocked when personnel returned the next day to take out the trach.

Olivia's first food requests were ice cream and coffee — two of her favorite things.

Soon nurses had her sitting in a chair, and then standing. Rochelle said she was in shock and awe when they said they wanted to get Olivia up and walking.

"They had a walker and a belt around her," Rochelle said, and two women — one on either side of Olivia — began walking down the hospital hallway.

"She walked 30 feet the first day; the second day she walked 60 feet," Rochelle said. "Once she woke up, she just wanted to go. It was one miracle after the other."

Since Rochelle and John were staying in Sioux Falls during Olivia's hospitalization, Sam stayed with family. He came home in time to welcome Olivia, Rochelle and John on Aug. 26 — 52 days after the crash.

In the weeks since, Olivia has followed a regimen of therapy appointments, counseling and doctor visits. About three weeks after she returned home, doctors said her neck brace could be removed as the two crushed vertebrae were nearly rehealed and fused together. X-rays on Oct. 11 on her lower back showed similar progress with the crushed vertebrae there.

"It was healing the right way, so I had my back brace taken off then too," Olivia said.

She still has a lot of back pain — particularly if she's been moving or sitting in place for too long.

Olivia was starting physical therapy again this week and, on doctor's orders, will attend school half days at Worthington Learning Center.

"She's only been to two full days of class," Rochelle said. "She gets headaches and backaches."

"Sometimes my back hurts to the point where I feel like I'm going to pass out," Olivia added.

Sam, a sophomore at the Worthington Learning Center, is back to being a full-time student.

The two have grown closer since the crash.

"So did my other siblings," Olivia said. "I got really close to them as I was healing."

Throughout Olivia's hospitalization, Rochelle said they didn't want to burden Sam with the extent of Olivia's injuries. Rochelle feared it would impact his own recovery.

"When Sam got ready to leave the hospital, we let him see Olivia," Rochelle said. "He broke down and cried and cried. We told him that she was going to be OK — that God was going to heal her — it was just going to take some time."

Sam is still angry about the crash, Rochelle said. He's upset that it happened, and he, like his dad, wished it had been him, not Olivia, that was injured so badly.

Olivia, meanwhile, spent those first days at home "literally calling all of her family and friends about five times a day" to talk about all of her injuries and tell them she was a miracle.

Rochelle recently posted on Caring Bridge that she has a stack of Thank You notes that are waiting on the counter at home to be mailed out. Between Olivia's appointments and John's recent hospitalization again at the V.A., she just hasn't had time.

"I will be forever grateful and thankful for everybody — the whole community, the ambulance crew, the EMTs, all of the people that were first on the scene, everyone that helped get my kids to the hospital and all the doctors and nurses that took care of them," Rochelle said. "And, all of the people that cooked meals for us when we came home, or stepped in and helped. All the people that sent donations — either through the mail, Venmo, or the bank account.

"It's been so hard with me not working, trying to keep up with all of the bills and all of the traveling expenses and food," she added. "I wouldn't be able to be here for my kids and my husband if I didn't have all the help. My stress was already to the max."

Olivia is thankful too — thankful for all of the prayers that were ultimately answered.

"I'm thankful that I can walk, talk and eat ... and I'm thankful that I get to spend another day with my family," she said.

John also offered his thanks to the V.A. medical staff and his brother, Chad and his family, for taking care of him during Olivia's hospitalization so that Rochelle could be with the kids.

The Van Edes still have an account at First State Bank Southwest in which people can donate to help them with continued expenses. The account is listed in Rochelle's name and her sister's, Ronica Vander By.

"Insurance has been helping a lot with the medical stuff," Rochelle said. "Appointments for therapy, doctor visits and counseling has been a lot."

She takes Olivia to counseling once each week out of town, and doctor appointments are either in Luverne or Sioux Falls.