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But he improved, and finally the day came when his physical therapist walked him to the hospital's front door to head home in the family's Pepto Bismol pink Datsun, a replacement vehicle.

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He felt called to go on a mission trip to Cameroon, and his church pastor and others made that happen. For 20 years, he has spoken to driver's ed students at O'Gorman High School, urging them to wear their seat belts.

March, observed as National Brain Injury Awareness Month, is coming to a close, but not for the Slettens, their four children, their extended family and their friends, not since a 1991 car accident that left Rodney permanently disabled.

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It was at the five week mark of his coma that his eyes first tracked a vacuum cleaner going across the floor. It took several more weeks before an arm first showed any movement. It was a celebration the first time he moved a thumb enough to signify approval.

went out through the passenger window."

But, you know what? The Slettens also have found a bright side. Lori can list those, too: Their children are more patient with others and they learned early on not to give up for feel sorry for themselves. Life is new every day, Lori says, and Rodney is a role model for others.

VIBORG I just backspaced through my original introductory paragraph for this column because I decided it was too flippant. And as Rodney and Lori Sletten know all too well, living with a traumatic brain injury really is not all that funny.

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Midway to Sioux Falls, Rodney was transferred to another ambulance. Also in need of assistance was his wife, then six months pregnant with their second child. Concerned for Rodney, however, Lori did not go into shock until she reached the hospital emergency room.

to occupational therapy and physical therapy," Rodney says. "I would say OT was for other torture and PT was for pain and torture."

Through faith and prayer, however, the Slettens focused on the progress Rodney made during the years. They expanded their family with another son and a daughter, and they tend a herd of sheep. Rodney can do repair work around their acreage under his sons' supervision.

Rodney Sletten talks about a traumatic brain injury he sustained in a car accident in 1991 and the challenges he has faced since then.(Photo: Elisha Page / Argus Leader)

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She soon was reunited with her husband, and in that first week, he occasionally squeezed her hand. Soon, even that sign of hope ended, and Rodney lay still.

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"When the brain flies, it's like a big bowl of Jell O, and you get damage on the other side, too," Lori says. "The brain will swell for 38 hours. In Rodney's case, it kept swelling, and he had 56 pounds per square inch of pressure in his brain. All that pressure caused damage in all these different places in his head."

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Rodney himself had worn his seat belt that day in 1991. He and Lori were coming back from an arts and craft show in the Twin Cities. When they paused to fill up the car in Sioux Falls, Rodney took the passenger seat. Hoping to sleep, he skipped buckling up.

And that's only a fraction of the changes his wife, Lori, can list. Twenty three years later, the couple, who also survived a house fire several years after the accident, say each day can be a challenge.

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Both Slettens had served as emergency medical technicians while attending college. As soon as Lori crawled from her car and saw Rodney prostrate in the field, she began performing emergency procedures. Passersby helped, and the Centerville ambulance service was on the scene within minutes.

Rodney's temperament became more volatile, with Rodney now quick to anger. His actions were unpredictable, since he was unable to tell what was acceptable and what was not. Lori was left watching her husband struggle.

Every brain injury is different, Lori says. In Rodney's case, he says every part of his brain was affected.

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An artist, Rodney had to give up the photography he loved because his vision has been affected. Multi tasking is impossible, and his brain often becomes fatigued because he must concentrate so intently.

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"The policeman told us we rolled five times, spinning like a top," Lori says. "Rodney was thrown out somewhere in one of those rotations, and he Puma Basket Maroon

"I said, I got wheeled in, I don't want to get wheeled out," Rodney says. "It was an important thing to me, to be able to walk to the car. From the first week of February till the first week of May, I was always getting wheeled around in a wheelchair."

When Lori hit a patch of black ice near Centerville, their car catapulted.

Thinning hair still covers an indentation in Rodney's head, his speech is slurred, and only about 30 percent of his body has any sensation. He can, for example, burn his arm and not realize the skin has blistered, or slice his skin while woodworking and feel no pain.

His muscles had atrophied, and Puma Ignite 300 Running Shoes

the need to stretch them out again caused intense pain. His arms curled against his chest, and even today, his Puma Ignite Pwrcool left leg still turns in.

Man dealing with life after brain injury

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