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Peterson family seeks a new kind of normal

A fundraiser for Bekka Peterson will be held at Carbone's Pizza in Farmington March 22, from 4-8 p.m. Pictured with her boyfriend Martin Tow, Bekka was struck by a car in St. Paul on Nov. 24 and sustained multiple injuries, including serious brain trauma. She's now home with her family.

Meagan Peterson came home from college Nov. 24 and asked her sister, Bekka, to come home early, too. “Let’s hang out,” Meagan said. But Bekka stayed in St. Paul to go out with friends from the University of St. Thomas.

And that night changed her life.

A 2010 Farmington High School graduate, Bekka and her friend, Nicholas Bergeland, were hit by a car while getting out of a taxi on Grand Avenue in St. Paul that night. They were rushed to Regions Hospital, and both pronounced in critical condition.

Bekka’s mother, Susan Peterson, and her father, Stacy Peterson, rushed to St. Paul to find their daughter. When they did, Stacy passed out. They knew it was bad, but it wasn’t until later that they learned how bad Bekka’s condition had been.

“When she came in, they didn’t expect her to make it out of the ER,” Susan said, “and then they didn’t expect her to make it out of surgery.”

The fight begins

Bekka sustained injuries all along the right side of her body, but the most concerning was the head wound, and the subsequent brain swelling that went along with it. Even holding her hand or talking to her increased brain activity, which caused her brain to swell more. Soon, it became evident to her doctors that part of her skull would have to be removed, if there were any chance of saving her life.

Thanksgiving came and went. It was then Susan realized her daughter had some comprehension of what was going on around her, because every time someone would talk about Black Friday shopping, her pressure went up.

“She was hearing this and she’s mad because she’s missing the biggest shopping day of the year,” Susan said.

A few days later, the brain activity was still causing too much pressure, so doctors had to put her into a medical coma for 10 days.

“They prepared us by telling us assuming she comes out, she’ll likely be in a vegetative state, and you’ll have to decide how long to leave her like that,” Susan said.

But Bekka apparently had other plans. Three days after she was brought out of the coma, Susan noticed Bekka’s finger seemed to be tapping in time with the Christmas song in the background. Her doctor was called in. He asked her to wiggle her fingers, then both of her feet. When she did, he told Susan it meant Bekka was not only able to hear, but she could comprehend what he was saying.

When her lips started moving with the lyrics of a Keith Urban song on the radio the next day, her doctor said she was also able to remember things. Within two or three days, she was sitting upright in her bed, and making purposeful movements.

Bekka doesn’t remember those early days in the hospital. Her first memory, though, is a pretty good one. It was on a day between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, when she had several friends and family come to visit her. She couldn’t understand it at first, because she thought she was in the clinic on the St. Thomas campus.

“It was like a dream, kind of,” Bekka said. “Why am I here? It was weird.”

Bekka was released from the hospital on Jan. 10.

“She’s a cheerleader. Has been since second grade,” Susan said. “She’s a fighter and always has been. She’s a spunky fighter. For Bekka, if it’s good, it’s not good enough until it’s great. It’s just her spirit.”

A new normal

These days, Bekka is back at home with her parents. Her boyfriend, Martin Tow, has also moved in to help with Bekka’s recovery and be there when her folks are at work.

The brain injury left her with a condition called aphasia. She can understand what is being said to her, but finding the words to reply — and getting them out right — isn’t always easy.

She’s in speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. She goes to Northfield for therapy three times a week, and a next door neighbor who is a teaching assistant at North Trail Elementary helps her with her reading and speech on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Earlier this month, Bekka went back into surgery to replace the portion of her skull that was removed. Doctors told the family that should help her progress take off in the next few months.

There’s progress every day, no matter how small it is, Susan said.

“You get up and do what you have to do. We’re all adjusting to the new normal,” she said.

Bekka is somewhat impatient with the new normal, though. She was pursuing an undergrad degree in business law, and was just five classes away from graduating from St. Thomas. But all of that is put on hold until she gets through her therapy.

“I’ll do it after summer,” Bekka said. “I’ll do it.”

Bekka’s Bright Night

A spaghetti dinner benefit is planned for the Peterson family Saturday, March 22, at Carbone’s Pizza in Farmington. It’s from 4 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $10, at the door.

The event is being planned by Susan’s good friends Sue Miller, Dolly Newberg and Renee Schmitz. They all know Bekka well, and know her shining personality. That’s why they’re calling it Bekka’s Bright Night.

Susan said many of Bekka’s doctors, nurses, therapists and even some of the EMTs and police who responded to the accident are coming.

Bekka is looking forward to the event.

“A lot of people are coming here for me,” she said. “It’s nice to see friends.”

The Petersons can never thank their friends and family, co-workers and community enough for all of the support they’ve received over the past four months. Bekka was put on prayer chains at churches around the area. They have received emails, cards, and even meals from the people around them.

“How do you say thank you to everyone who has done all of this?” Susan said. “There’s just no words.”

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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