MANKATO — It’s a mystery.
She remembers nothing, and yet here she is, a shell of her former self, unable to walk, unable to remember things, barely able to give her kids a hug, or her husband a kiss. Unable to figure out why.
A few months ago, she was the vibrant bookkeeper of the family business who doted on her children, loved to garden, cook, live.
And then it happened.
What happened, exactly, well ... That’s just it. No one knows. Could have been a stroke. She could have tripped and fallen face first onto the corner of an end table (she had the bruise to prove it).
Whatever happened Sept. 31 — while she stayed up watching TV and checking in with Facebook after everyone else had gone to bed — resulted in Dawn Prange sustaining a severe brain injury.
She is alert and can talk to her kids and husband. But she’s very forgetful. And very emotional. Especially when asked to talk about her accident and how it has transformed her life.
Has she ever asked herself, a visitor says, ‘Why me?’
“Every single day,” she says. Just then her head dips, her face crunches in, and tears fall.
As she cries, her younger son, Riley, responds like a nurse. Riley, 12, is autistic and is very attuned to his mother’s emotions. When she struggles, he wants to help.
“Need a hug?” he says.
Dawn nods, and does her best to return Riley’s embrace.
“It’s OK, Mom,” he says.
As they hug, Dawn’s husband, Leon, joins.
It’s a picture that says a lot about the Pranges’ lives the last few months. It’s been a whirlwind. A nightmare. A roller coaster. All at the same time.
Friends and family have organized a benefit for Prange July 15 at Hooligan’s in Mankato. The family hopes to, among other things, collect enough money to purchase a lift mechanism for the family’s home to make it easier to move Dawn between floors of the rural Mankato house.
The family has insurance from Blue Cross, but their coverage is only for major medical events. On top of that, they said they’ve been denied coverage for continuance of the physical therapy that she’s used to make baby steps on her way back to normal.
The Pranges lived in Mankato for years before they purchased a sheet metal business in Walker and headed north. Business was slow at first, but was starting to pick up when the accident happened. Now, they’ve moved back to the Mankato area into the house that, ever since they’d moved away four years ago, hadn’t sold.
When asked about the night of the accident and the mystery surrounding what happened to his wife, all Leon can do is throw his hands in the air and wonder.
“I drove myself nuts the first month trying to figure it out,” he said. “I was going to get rid of it (what she fell on).”
He spent hours, he said, walking around the area where it happened. Says he wore holes in the carpet. He says he was nearly obsessed with it.
But no matter how much he tried to figure it out, no answers came. All he can figure is she either had a stroke and fell over, or she tripped and hit her head on the corner of a table.
All they know for sure is this. She was on Facebook sending a message to someone in the late hours of Sept. 31. And in the early hours of Oct. 1, she’d somehow crawled into the bed of her oldest son, 14-year-old Trevor. Trevor awoke to gurgling sounds and saw his mother lying next to him. He ran to get his dad, saying he thought his mother was having a seizure.
They called an ambulance and got her to a hospital, but doctors soon decided to have her flown to the Hennepin County Medical Center, where she underwent emergency brain surgery.
“The surgeon said, ‘I don’t know if she’s even going to be here tomorrow,’” Leon said.
But she did make it. And not long after that she began physical therapy. Her progress has been slow. She struggles with nearly every physical act. Getting off the couch requires help, and once she’s up, her balance is weak. She gets emotional very easily. And her short-term memory sometimes fails her.
She was progressing, Leon says, when her insurance decided to no longer pay for physical therapy. Now Leon is trying to figure out Dawn’s physical therapy future, and how he’ll pay for it.
His wife’s life has changed, for sure. So has Leon’s. Dawn is a much different person today than she was before the accident.
Someone asks him if the person he married is still there.
He says yes. And begins to cry.
“I ain’t gonna trade her off,” he says, wiping a tear away. “We’re in this for the long haul.”
Hearing it, Riley returns.
“I love you,” he says to his mother. “Are you happy crying?”
“Yes,” his mom says.