Miracle Man: Wayne Klumper returns home 11 weeks after devastating accident
WORTHINGTON — Seventy-nine days after he climbed aboard his motorcycle and headed out to run an errand in town, Wayne Klumper returned home earlier this week.
The intervening 11 weeks were painful ones for Wayne and his family as he struggled to overcome the extreme injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident June 25 on the outskirts of Worthington. But amid the anguish, terror and heartache they experienced, the Klumper clan also discovered moments of joy, a strengthening of their faith and family bonds and gratitude for the community that came forward to support them.
Trauma and uncertainty
It’s a Monday morning, and Wayne is sitting in a chair inside his room on the fourth floor of Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D., wife Dea by his side. He flashes a big grin as a visitor from Worthington appears in the doorway. There have been hundreds of such visitors since Wayne became a patient at the hospital, although he wasn’t conscious to greet many of them.
When Wayne arrived at the Sioux Falls facility on June 25, he had multiple injuries: broken collarbone, broken shoulder blade, six broken ribs and four dislocated ribs in the front; four broken ribs on the back; broken facial bones; road rash. The most concerning was a traumatic brain injury.
“I remember sitting in the emergency room and one of the doctors saying to me that his injuries might not be survivable,” remembered Dea. “Until that moment, I didn’t realize he might not make it.”
As they sat in the critical care waiting room, Dea and their children — Dan, Tresse and Joe — and extended family had to ponder that possibility, and also the chance that if he did survive his capabilities might be highly diminished by the brain trauma.
“I think it was Tresse who commented, ‘I just want my dad to be able to get back to what he was,’” related Dea.
For the next five weeks, those fears were paramount as the doctors and critical care staff did everything they could to sustain Wayne’s life and create the best possible outcome for his survival.
“Every time we walked down the hall, we didn’t know what we’d find,” explained Dea. “But the doctors knew exactly what to do, no matter the crisis.”
In order to communicate with friends and family and document everything happening in Sioux Falls, Dan began a CaringBridge website and updated it several times a day with input from Tresse and Joe. Sprinkled throughout the entries are messages to Wayne, in the hope that someday he would be able to read and understand everything that occurred during his hospitalization.
“Wayne has kept a journal ever since we were married,” explained Dea, pulling a framed picture off the wall of his hospital room. “When he went to the house, Dan went and looked at the journal, and this was the last thing he had written in his journal: Thank you God for my special family. So he took a picture of it and framed it.”
CaringBridge entry from June 30: ... Dad, while you’ve been sleeping, I just want you to know that your wife has not left the hospital, has not left your side. Your son Joe has slept every night in the waiting room, making sure mom is not alone. Your daughter, Tresse, has stood by your side, rubbing your arm, squeezing your fingers, telling you how much she loves and misses you. Your granddaughters are praying for you. You’ve had countless visitors stream through your room, and even though you are sleeping, they always say hi to you and tell you that they are praying for you and fighting with you. All of your farm chores are being taken care of, your sheep are going to be taken to the market by a couple of expert farmers this week, so you don’t have to worry about that. The lawn has been mowed as well. Dad, while you have been sleeping, you are doing more than heal. You are bringing together a community of friends and family, you are making an already close family, airtight. Your strength and toughness is inspiring everyone who knows you. ...
As they sat and waited and prayed, the Klumper siblings also came up with the idea of making and wearing T-shirts that would express their unity in helping their dad fight to get better. They designed a simple logo, HEALS, and included a Bible verse, Psalm 147:3: He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Initially intended as a family show of force, they ordered some extra shirts and took orders at Wayne’s former place of employment, the Worthington Area YMCA. At last count, more than 700 shirts had been sold.
One of the most extreme measures taken during those initial weeks in the hospital was induced hypothermia in order to reduce the swelling in the brain.
“They had him so cold that he felt like he was dead when you touched his hands,” recalled Dea, holding the now much warmer hand of her husband. “But it made him shiver so badly, so they put an air mattress filled with warm air on top of him to fool his body into thinking it was warm.”
All the tricks the doctors employed worked, and Wayne’s body and brain slowly began to heal. Still, the question lingered: Would Wayne be the same guy he once was when he awakened?
The answer didn’t come fast. Even after the sedation drugs were withdrawn, he was slow to rouse.
“He’d open his eyes when they would turn him, and even when he was in the coma, they would put him in a chair to help his lungs and he would kind of open his eyes, but it would just be like a blank stare. But you could see his eyes, which was awesome,” said Dea. “The doctors said, ‘We can’t guarantee he’s going to wake up,’ But he’d move a finger, twitch a muscle, and we knew he was in there.”
CaringBridge entry from July 19: This morning my dad opened his eyes for 20 minutes. The nurse came in to shave him, as his whiskers were getting a little unruly, and when she started, he pulled back a little bit like it hurt. This is normal because trying to shave long whiskers with an electric shaver hurts anybody, coma or not. Then, he opened his eyes and was trying to track the nurses as they moved around the room. There will be no Hollywood coma wake-up where he all of a sudden wakes up and starts talking. The wake-up will be very gradual. However, what he did this morning qualifies as waking up.
Little by little, Wayne became more aware of his surroundings and what was going on around him, and, eventually, he began to respond and talk.
Progress and setbacks
During his stay at Sanford, Wayne has been through some changes of venue — seven rooms, each documented with a photo of the room number. The most momentous change, of course, was leaving critical care.
“One of the doctors commented when we were leaving the third floor that it’s hard to get off the third floor, meaning you don’t make it,” said Dea.
But while Wayne’s status was no longer critical, he still had many roadblocks to overcome, including pneumonia and several bouts with kidney stones. The stones — unrelated to his injuries — made their presence known 10 minutes after Wayne was wheeled into a new room, and just before the family was to celebrate his return to a regular diet with a pizza party. Surgical procedures, with varying degrees of success, were necessary to bust up the offending objects.
A tough stage of the recovery for Dea was when Wayne became agitated and would try repeatedly to get out of bed — at all hours of the day and night. For his own safety, he had to be secured in an enclosed veil bed.
“I was staying in his room, and it was a tough night,” she admitted. “It’s like you put him in a padded room and let him go. He would whisper, ‘Dea, Dea? Where did she go?’ then ‘Joe?’ Where are you?’ But nobody would be able to help him.”
Throughout Wayne’s recovery, Dea stayed at the hospital, only returning to Worthington a few rare times to take care of some work details. An avid exerciser, she kept fit by climbing the hospital steps five times a day. She counted — it’s 200 steps one way.
Two days before his anticipated release date, Wayne was beginning to get excited about the prospect. In a soft voice — vocal chords affected by intubation and speech by the brain injury — he spoke about seeing his parents, John and Myrt Klumper, once again. His dad is in hospice care, but his mother was able to visit him at Sanford. A daily visit with them at their care facility had been part of his routine for six years prior to the accident.
After that, Wayne’s fondest wish was to sit on the porch at home, dog Hunter at his feet.
“I hope he still remembers me, hope he still likes me,” said Wayne about his devoted pet.
On Wednesday, Wayne did return to Worthington. As planned, he visited his parents and then retreated to the Klumper homestead for family time.
Wayne was asked to be on a float in today’s King Turkey Day Parade, but as there are concerns about overstimulation in the wake of a traumatic brain injury, his kids will ride it in his stead. In the days ahead, he plans to continue with his speech therapy, slowly reconnect with his home and the larger community and continue his recovery.
“I’m thankful that God gave us another chance to move on,” he said. “I don’t know how we’ll ever be able to thank everyone.”
That sense of gratitude is reiterated in Dan’s final CaringBridge post, written late Wednesday night:
... Like my dad said, he couldn’t have done it without all of you. We are so thankful that you stayed with us, in our corner, undeterred to the end. We are at a loss trying to think up a way we can actually thank all of you for what you have done. I guess the one thing we can do is just tell you. From my mom and dad, from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you so much for fighting with us.
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers
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