By Emily Bialkowski
She was the perfect kind of beautiful every girl wants to be at her junior prom: long blonde hair swept to one side with just the right amount of curl and body; pink, sparkling gown offsetting her aquamarine blue eyes and flawless, glowing skin.
But, “It was really embarrassing because I knew everyone was staring at me. Being the girl in the wheelchair, you feel singled out.”
Caledonia 17-year-old Hannah Klinski’s life has changed dramatically since a Feb. 15 car accident left her unable to walk. She’s overcome a major concussion, several surgeries, navigating life in a wheelchair and caught up on school work lost during a 61-day stay at the hospital. She’s been thrust into the limelight and gets by “day by day,” she said. “It’s a very life-changing thing.”
In some ways Klinski says life hasn’t changed at all. Her friends come over to her house and they watch movies, or they all head out to La Crosse to go to the movies. She likes to shop and goes out to eat with her boyfriend.
“But in the aspect of how I do things, life is different,” she said.
On Feb. 15, Klinski was driving alone by the intersection of County 12 and Parkside Road. She went flying off road and remembers only snippets of what happened.
“I remember snow flying up in the air and looking to the right and seeing the air bags go off. I felt my body floating toward the driver’s side window. I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. It was really slow motion, and I heard the sound of glass shattering.”
Klinski hit her head as she was ejected from the car and suffered a severe concussion. A UPS driver named Tim O’Hare, of Rushford, noticed a light blinking in the snow and after investigating found Klinski lying in the field.
Klinski said she remembers telling him she was cold and kept asking who he was. By the time she got to the hospital, her core body temperature had dropped 10 degrees.
“If he wouldn’t have seen me there, I probably would have died of hypothermia,” she said.
The following weeks are somewhat a blur for Klinski. She underwent jaw surgery, collar bone surgery and back surgery.
She doesn’t remember the first two or three weeks in the hospital, though her family tells stories of her asking for her cellphone. Klinski said she knows the doctors and nurses explained her situation to her, but that also remains a fuzzy memory.
“By what my mom tells me, they told me everything that happened, but it didn’t really click that I’m paralyzed for the rest of my life. I guess when they said they’d give me back surgery, I thought they’d fix that, too.”
Klinski said, from what she understands, her T11 vertebrate burst into her T12 vertebrate. The surgery was performed to help stabilize her spine.
The transition has, naturally, affected the entire Klinski family. Klinski’s mom, Tami, said, “It’s been a pretty emotional ride for everybody, but we’re getting there.”
Klinski’s dad, Mark, worked with friends and family to help make their home more wheelchair accessible, and support in the form of phone calls, cards, gifts and well wishes poured in. A neighbor even redesigned Klinski’s room to make it “teenager cool,” and Klinski said she loves it. Klinski also has a sister, Tara.
Fundraisers continue to take place for the family. The high school student council held a “Walk for Hannah” and raised $1,590.
On June 29, beginning at 1 p.m., a silent auction, cash raffle and 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner raffle will take place at St. Mary’s Catholic School. Tickets for the Roadrunner are $100 apiece, and only 500 tickets will be sold. A $500 cash prize will also be raffled off at $10 per ticket. Family and friends are organizing the fundraiser.
Klinski admitted that some of the events make her nervous.
“I don’t like being the center of attention, and I hope they don’t ask me to make a big speech, but I’m looking forward to being with my family and friends and everyone who cares about me,” she said.
The high school junior still wants to go to college but isn’t sure what she wants to pursue for a career. She’s been told by medical professionals she can fulfill any dream she’s ever had.
“It’ll just be a different approach to things,” she said.
For now she attends a half dozen therapy appointments per week in La Crosse and enjoys babysitting her neighbors’ kids as she always has. The 6-year-old twins keep her smiling, while friends keep her in the loop.
“They’ve been supportive and don’t treat me any different,” Klinski said.
The family continues to regroup and is appreciative of the caring people around them.
“All the support from everybody has been great,” Tami Klinski said.