Chad’s journey home

The first day of school this week was especially meaningful for one Broken Bow High School senior and his family. Nearly 11 weeks after a horrific automobile accident nearly took his life, 17-year-old Chad Christensen is back in school - and he admits he looked forward to his first day this year more than he ever has before! When Chad returned home Aug. 10, after seven weeks at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, he was not only welcomed by his friends and family - but the entire community rolled out the red carpet. “Welcome Home Chad” signs were displayed in front of many of the town’s businesses, and a couple of those businesses became even more involved in the celebration. One of them was Runza Restaurant. The Broken Bow Runza Restaurant is owned and operated by Kevin and Joyce Richardson. Both have strong ties to the community and to the school, and decided they wanted to do something special in honor of Chad’s homecoming. So on that day, Aug. 10, the restaurant offered to donate 100 percent of all ice cream sales to the Seniors Baseball program in Chad’s name. Runza also sold coupon books for ice cream, and had a donation can set up inside the restaurant. All total, $1,145 was raised that day for the baseball program. A “Welcome Home Chad” banner was displayed in the store for people to sign. The banner, donated by Palmer Monument Co. of Broken Bow, is riddled with signatures and messages from well wishers from all across the country. “We had people come in who were just passing through and inquired about the sign and what was going on,” says Joyce Richardson, “and they were so inspired by Chad’s story they wanted to sign the banner. We had people buy ice cream, and buy the coupon books and then put the change in the bucket!” “Our community is amazing,” said Cathy Christensen, Chad’s mom, as the check was presented to the baseball program. Mike Evans, representing the Diamond Youth Organization (DYO), said options for where to use the money are still being discussed, but Chad will have some input on that.THE LONG ROAD HOME It has been a long journey for the Christensen family. It all happened in an instant on a Friday afternoon, June 1, when Chad and seven of his fellow members of the BBHS basketball team were returning from a day-long camp in Kearney. Just a mile west of Ansley, on Highway 2, the van the team was riding in collided head-on with a pickup being driven by a life-long Ansley farmer. The driver of the pickup, Albert Sherbeck, along with the two basketball coaches in the front of the van, Anthony Blum and Zane Harvey, were killed. Chad was one of three students immediately transported to Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney. He was critically injured, suffering severe head trauma, and his parents now say that for the first three days the medical staff at Good Sam did not expect Chad to make it. His parents will also tell you Chad has always been a fighter, and is notorious for proving doctors wrong. Last year during football season Chad suffered a season-ending injury when he broke both bones in his leg. The prognosis was for months of therapy to heal the bones. “The doctor told Chad and us that there was no way he was going to play basketball or run track that year,” Cathy recalls. “But he did.” At that, Chad grabs his phone and shows the x-ray pictures of his shattered leg. With his trademark smile, he explains how the doctors were just sure there was no way he would participate in any sports that year, but he wasn’t about to give up. When asked if Chad has always had that kind of resilient attitude, his parents both laughed. “He has been that way since he was a week old,” says dad, Mike. Cathy explains how every step of the way during his recovery, Chad continued to astound the doctors and nurses with his progress. “The doctor came in and told us what to expect with Chad’s recovery, and said there would be a lot of this (as she motions with her hand up and down, simulating highs and lows). But a few days later that doctor came back in and said, ‘Remember what I told you about the recovery? Well that’s not your son. He is more like this (as she motions with her hand in a gradual slope upward). And that is how it stayed.” Two weeks to the day after arriving at Good Sam, Chad was moved to Madonna in Lincoln to begin rehabilitation. He was expected to remain at Madonna for several months, but once again the teenager was determined to prove the medical staff wrong. When Chad arrived at Madonna he could not walk or talk. A mechanical lift transported him in and out of bed. He had lost nearly 30 pounds, and was extremely weak. His occupational therapist, Kilee Oetjen, recalls that Chad could barely roll over to greet her when she first met him. But that soon changed. His mom says every time the doctors would set a goal for Chad for the week, he would surpass it in a day, and be ready for more. His drive and determination won the hearts of everyone at the hospital, and was a continual source of encouragement for his teammates and the families of those who were lost in the horrible accident. Cathy started a Facebook page devoted to Chad’s recovery, appropriately titled “Chad Christensen's Journey.” Throughout the weeks of physical, occupational and speech language therapy, she kept friends and family updated on Chad’s progress. However, the page soon became much more than just a site for friends and family. The community page has more than 6,000 friends, from all around the world, who have been following Chad’s story - and have been truly inspired by it.MOVING FORWARD Tuesday was the first day of school for Broken Bow students, and the first day of Chad’s senior year. When asked if he was looking forward to the first day of school this year, Chad remarked - “More than I ever have before. This will be my last first day of school,” as he flashes that smile. The new year, however, does come with some adjustments. While Chad is not able to join his teammates on the football field this fall, he has designated himself as the team’s biggest supporter. He has sat in on some practices, and was issued his old jersey - number 30 - to wear on game days in support of his team. Chad is planning on playing basketball with his team this year, and anyone who has followed his story could have little doubt that if that is what he wants to do, that is what he will do. He also has set a goal for himself to be able to hunt this season, though for now he is restricted from firing a gun. That, along with no driving, is one of the few restrictions Chad has as far as physical activity. He is working hard to get his life back to normal - attending physical therapy and occupational therapy two to three times per week. He works on speech therapy a little each day. The day of the Runza check presentation, Aug. 16, Chad had just come from his first PT appointment in Broken Bow. Cathy says the therapist was astounded at Chad’s progress. “The therapist said he was doing things by the end of the session he wasn’t able to do when he came in,” says Cathy, as she shared the therapist’s enthusiasm. His mom says Chad will have one to one tutoring for just a little while at the beginning of the school year, gradually working his way back into the classroom. Cathy says she sees improvement in her son each day, and she believes his getting to come home is the best medicine of all. The family says it was the support of their friends - and above all their faith - that got them through those difficult weeks. “We have the best people around us and the support has been amazing,” says Cathy. We can't even begin to thank everyone for all the prayers and love, but without God's hand in this... we wouldn't be here today. Chad's recovery is a miracle and I do hope it has inspired many because, it sure has me. I give thanks to God daily, maybe hourly! We are so thankful to have Chad still with us and doing so well.” Cathy also encourages those around her to continue to pray for the Blum, Harvey and Sherbeck families. “As the days move forward and life starts to go back to normal, know that we will always be thankful to all of you for all the kind words, prayers, letters and hugs!”