Green is the color for traumatic brain injury

Students, faculty and family wear the color in support of Matt Athman 

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

The residents of Pierz are all wearing green to support Matt Athman, 17, who was in a devastating car accident Nov. 1. He sustained traumatic brain stem injuries and green is the color which represents just that.

Pierz students had the afternoon off that fateful Friday. Matt, 17, left home, south of Pierz, to pick up his sister Abby from her dance practice at the school. Both his parents, Lynn and Bill, were at work.

“I got a call at work from Police Chief Eric Hanneken,” said Lynn. “He told me he was making the call all parents dread.”

The call was to tell her that both Matt and his sister Abby, 14, had been in an accident and both had sustained head injuries.

Matt Athman, 17, Pierz, was hurt in a traffic accident Nov. 1 and is still recuperating at St. Cloud Hospital. He is pictured with his sisters (from left): Kami, 11; Laura, 16; Matt; Abby, 14;  and Brooke, 7.
Matt Athman, 17, Pierz, was hurt in a traffic accident Nov. 1 and is still recuperating at St. Cloud Hospital. He is pictured with his sisters (from left): Kami, 11; Laura, 16; Matt; Abby, 14; and Brooke, 7.

Lynn, a occupational therapist at Country Manor in Sartell, knew it just couldn’t be a head or spinal cord injury, that would be too much.

“I learned that Matt had stopped at the intersection of 270th Avenue and 133rd Street. He proceeded across the road, not seeing the truck that hit them broadside,” said Lynn. Both were wearing seat belts.

Matt was airlifted to St. Cloud Hospital and Abby was taken by ambulance to St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Little Falls. She was later air-lifted to Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) in Minneapolis.

“I called Bill to come and get me and we went to the St. Cloud Hospital,” said Lynn. “My thinking was he just couldn’t have a head injury—he has an IQ of 137 plus he got 30 on his ACT college tests.”

The doctors gave Matt medications to reduce what they thought was swelling in the brain. When it didn’t produce the desired outcome, an MRI showed brain stem injuries, a more serious situation.

Because of the brain stem injury, Matt could not control his body temperature, his respiration or his level of alertness. While wrapped in cooling blankets plus ice under his armpits, his temperature hovered around 102 degrees. When the doctors took him off the ventilator, his oxygen levels would decrease and he would have to be reconnected.

“It took four weeks for Matt to get off both the ventilator and five weeks for the tracheostomy tube,” said Lynn. “Today he still has a feeding tube,”

Abby was in the Intensive Care Unit at HCMC for four days and she was then allowed to come home. She had two cracked ribs and much bruising. She also sustained a severe concussion from the accident and injuries she is still seeing a therapist and chiropractor for. She will return to school full-time after the holidays.

“Abby doesn’t remember me visiting her in the hospital,” said good friend of the family and Pierz social studies teacher Dean Dahmen.

“She doesn’t remember much of those four days at HCMC. She was not herself,” said Lynn.

Matt spoke his first word about two weeks ago when he said, “Mom.” On Dec. 20, he said, “Thank you,” to the nurses and everyone got teary-eyed. That same day he began eating.

“Matt’s speech is still a whisper,” said Lynn. She said the prognosis is that it will take a long time for him to recover.

“As of Dec. 3, Matt is in inpatient rehabilitation, where I work. Because I know everyone, I have a lot of support,” she said.

The doctors have said it will take about two years before Matt is where he once was. But, they say he will recover, he will get better, said Lynn.

“I have high hopes. At first, the doctors said he may not recognize pictures or be able to read, but he is already able to do both,” she said.

Matt is improving daily. When nurses return from having three days off, they are amazed at his progress in that short time.

Matt is 6-feet 8-inches tall and weighed 175 pounds before the accident. Today he is 30 pounds lighter. This was his senior year at Pierz Healy High School and he was looking forward to being the captain of the basketball team.

Dahmen said he met with the senior class the Monday after the accident to get the information out.

“They all asked me what they could do,” he said. “The kids purchased more than $1,000 in gas cards for the family to help with the many trips to St. Cloud, Brainerd and Minneapolis.”

Also, green T-shirts were sold saying, “Faith, Support, Love, Family, Determination and Hope.”

Lynn said of her son, “Matthew is the kind of person we all strive to be. He loves his family, friends, children, elderly people, animals and God.  He avoids any conflict at any time, never physically hurting anyone. He would tell me what he wanted to stay in a particular situation and when I asked him what he did say or do. He’d say, ‘Nothing, or I just walked away. Do onto others as you want done to you.  What would Jesus do?’ he would say.

“Matt would always give me a hug when I came home from work or a kiss on the cheek before going to bed with an, ‘I love you mom,'” she said. “He drove the girls anywhere they needed to be without complaining, even taking Kami to piano lessons for us.  His sisters look up to him and adore him. At church he’d hold the door open, even waiting for people in the parking lot. I never knew just how many friends Matt has until the accident.  He is loved by so many people because of the person he is and will be again through all the daily prayers being said for him, even after two months.  He’s amazing and our community is amazing too.”

A benefit is being planned for Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, at the Pierz Ballroom. It begins at 4 p.m. and ends with the band, “Loose Talk” playing until midnight. There will be both silent and live auctions, a split the pot drawing, a bake sale and spaghetti for supper (Matt’s favorite). All this comes after the Pierz JV and varsity basketball teams play against Paynesville that afternoon.

Monetary gifts to help the Athman family with medical bills, travel and loss of work may be sent to Farmers and Merchants State Bank at 80 Main St. N., Pierz, MN., 56346.

To donate auction items, contact JR Brausen at (320) 468-6076 or Dean Dahmen at (320) 232-5120.