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After life-changing accident, UND hockey's Lisa Marvin takes her days one step at a time

Lisa Marvin opens her eyes. Someone leans over her on each side. They wear emergency medical personnel jackets. She can tell she's in a vehicle, and it's moving. I must be in an ambulance. The

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Lisa Marvin watches the UND women's hockey team play a game last month at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)
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Lisa Marvin opens her eyes.

Someone leans over her on each side. They wear emergency medical personnel jackets. She can tell she’s in a vehicle, and it’s moving.

I must be in an ambulance.

The attendants cut at her clothes with scissors. They start with her UND hockey jacket. Then, they cut off her UND sweatshirt.

Something bad must have happened, but I don’t feel anything. This is weird.

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“What happened?” she asks.

The attendants don’t respond, but keep cutting.

Everything is hazy. Lisa’s eyes close again.

She fades out.

*****

Lisa’s eyes open in a hospital room.

A nurse stands by her, holding Lisa’s cellphone.

Is there anyone she can call?

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Lisa recites her sister Layla’s number.

Her eyes close again.

She fades out.

*****

Lisa opens her eyes.

Layla stands by her hospital bed. Tori Williams and Meghan Dufault, her UND hockey teammates and roommates, are there, too.

Lisa tells them that she doesn’t really want to talk right now.

They tell Lisa that her arm is broken.

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“No, it’s my leg that really hurts,” she says.

What happened?

She doesn’t ask questions, just thinks to herself. Nothing is coming back to her. She’s confused.

Her eyes close and she fades out.

*****

Lisa opens her eyes.

It’s the evening now. She has visitors around the room. She can’t make all of them out, but she sees her parents, Kallie and David.

Layla starts to tell Lisa what happened: Lisa’s pickup truck ran out of gas. She was filling it at the side of the street when she was hit by another car.

But for Lisa, everything is still hazy. She doesn’t take anything in.

Her eyes close.

She fades out.

*****

It’s 9:30 p.m.

Lisa is wheeled into surgery.

Doctors prepare a major operation on her arm, where a 3-inch chunk of bone pierced through her skin between her elbow and shoulder. The bone completely detached and left her body. Emergency workers found it in her sweatshirt.

Doctors make two cuts near the hole in her arm, which is already about the size of a soda can. They insert two plates - one about 6 inches long - where the bone used to be. After four hours, they are done.

By now, it’s the wee hours of Tuesday, Nov. 18. It has been 12 hours since the accident.

After surgery, the family starts informing Lisa what happened. This time, she comprehends it.

She gets bits and pieces of information throughout the next several days.

Lisa learns what happened, how many surgeries she’s going to need, how long her recovery will take and how there’s no guarantee she will ever play UND hockey again.

The accident

Monday, Nov. 17, was a normal winter day in Grand Forks.

Lisa was at Ralph Engelstad Arena early in the morning for her team’s 8:30 a.m. practice.

Things were looking up. Lisa, a sophomore forward from Warroad, Minn., had been in-and-out of the lineup early in the season, but she scored her first goal of the season three days earlier at Bemidji State. She was going to be in the lineup again the next weekend against Ohio State.

After practice, Lisa walked to class. When she was done at about 1 p.m., she walked back to the arena, got in her 1984 Dodge pickup and headed home as snow fell in town.

One item on her to-do list for the day was to fill up on gas.

Although she bought the pickup just three months earlier, the gas gauge didn’t work, and she knew it was probably running low.

But as she turned left from Ralph Engelstad Arena Drive on to Gateway Drive, the vehicle shut down. Lisa was able to swing the pickup into the right lane of Gateway Drive, a four-lane road running through north Grand Forks.

Fortunately, a gas station was just 100 feet away.

Lisa walked to University Station and purchased a gas can. She filled it up and returned to her pickup.

The gas tank is located on the driver’s side, so before she started to pour, she looked behind her to make sure no cars were coming. That’s the last thing Lisa remembers before waking up in the back of the ambulance.

According to police, a red Chevrolet Cavalier, allegedly driven by 18-year-old Tristen Johnson, hit the back left side of the truck, forcing the pickup into Lisa. Police also told the Marvin family that they believe Lisa rolled on the hood of the car. She was launched into the air and landed on the pavement.

The next car driving by nearly ran Lisa over, witnesses told police.

One woman parked her car sideways to block oncoming traffic and grabbed a red, snowflake blanket to cover Lisa.

Lisa didn’t have any visible damage - her face was unharmed in the accident - but beneath her layers of winter clothes, there were significant injuries.

Her right arm shattered.

That’s where the 3-inch chunk of bone exited her body, leaving the hole in her arm. She sustained nerve damage, too, preventing her right hand from functioning normally. Three months later, she still can’t tightly grip anything with her right hand or give a thumb’s up.

Lisa’s right knee was blown out, requiring major surgery on her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), as well as operations to fix her meniscus and oblique lateral ligament.

After her father saw the injuries and talked to police, he said his daughter was “really, really, really lucky to be alive.”

A witness told police that the driver of the Chevy Cavalier was racing another car, and they started in East Grand Forks, according to a probable cause summary.

The witness said that the two vehicles were "out of control and were going to cause an accident."

Johnson told police he was going 40 mph. The driver of the other car, Gannon Miller, told police he was going about 55 mph, according to the police report. The officer wrote that he did not see any brake marks on the road.

Johnson, of Arvilla, N.D., was charged with aggravated reckless driving. His next court date is March 3.

Layla, two years older than Lisa and a teammate on the UND hockey team, was in a communications class when she got a text from teammate Jordan Hampton asking whether the sisters had been in an accident.

Hampton saw Lisa’s pickup on the side of the road.

Sensing something was wrong, Layla immediately packed up her stuff and walked out in the middle of class. She drove to the site of the accident and saw Lisa’s pickup, but her sister was gone.

Layla then made her way to Altru Hospital. As she was running into the emergency room, her phone rang. The caller ID said “Lisa.”

It was the Altru nurse, who informed Layla that her sister was there. Layla relayed the information to her parents, who rushed from the family’s home in Warroad, about two hours and 15 minutes away.

They arrived before Lisa went into surgery at about 9:30. Four hours later, the operation was complete and Lisa was back in her hospital room. The family watched reports of the accident on the nightly news.

Lisa’s mother set up a bed on the floor next to her hospital bed and spent the next six nights there.

As cards and flowers flooded her hospital room, Lisa struggled to do anything.

For the first three days, she still had blood and gasoline in her hair. On Wednesday night, her roommates were able to wash most of it out from her hospital bed. It was a full week until Lisa was able to shower.

On Thursday, three days after the accident, Lisa had a second surgery. It was supposed to be a minor, 30-minute operation to remove anti-bacteria beads in her arm, but the plates ended up shifting. Doctors had to cut her open again. The procedure took four hours.

Seven days after the accident, on a Sunday afternoon, Lisa finally left the hospital and returned to Warroad.

“It was really emotional,” her mother, Kallie, said. “On one hand, it’s like bringing your baby home from the hospital for the first time. But it was sad because she was so broken. She couldn’t move.

“She got flooded with so many flowers and cards that we couldn’t take them all home. Sometimes, I didn’t know if I was crying because Lisa was so hurt or because people were so nice.”

Two weeks later, Lisa had major knee surgery at Vail (Colo.) Valley Medical Center. Dr. Robert LaPrade repaired her ACL, MCL and PCL. He also tacked down her meniscus and oblique lateral ligament.

LaPrade told the family it was a “violent knee injury.”

Lisa stayed in Colorado for a couple of weeks to rehabilitate after the surgery at Steadman Clinic. Her cousin, Brett Mueller, is a physical therapist there.

When she returned home to Warroad, Lisa continued her rehab. It took eight weeks for her to get out of a wheelchair.

“That was the most exciting day,” Lisa said.

Returning to hockey wasn’t on Lisa’s mind after the operations.

She had other hurdles first - going to the bathroom on her own, showering on her own, eating on her own and walking on her own.

All have become challenges.

It took two months for her to be able to shower without her mother standing in there with her. Even now, Kallie has to monitor Lisa to make sure she doesn’t fall.

Lisa is still greatly affected by the nerve damage on her right hand. If she clenches her fist, it is only half the strength of the other hand, and she needs help to open it back up again. She can’t extend her elbow fully. And she still can’t give a thumbs-up.

“My thumb is almost completely dead,” Lisa said. “They say that can take a year to come back.”

Lisa is only allowed to lift 8 ounces with her right arm, so eating has been difficult, too.

The ordeal made it impossible for Lisa to finish the first semester. She got a waiver from UND to have extra time to finish the fall semester. As of last week, she has finished four of five classes. She signed up for one online course this semester, too.

The future

Lisa still may be facing more surgeries.

Doctors are hoping that the bone will regenerate where the plate is located in her arm. If it does not, she likely will need bone taken from her hip and placed in her arm. Doctors think they will know sometime this summer whether the bone is going to regenerate.

If her hand doesn’t return to normal, doctors may have to move a seldom-used nerve from the bottom of her arm to the top.

“When I touch my skin, it hurts because of the nerves,” Lisa said. “When I put lotion on it, it doesn’t feel good. But it’s good to irritate the nerve once in a while.”

Lisa is continuing to work on rehab with her knee. She recently visited Steadman Clinic a second time for 10 days of physical therapy. Lisa is expecting knee rehab to last until about September.

Lisa’s not sure if it will be feasible to play hockey again, but she wants to try.

“I think I would do it more for myself, so I could say that I fully recovered and got back out there,” she said. “Just to prove to myself that I can do it. I hope to if it’s at all possible.”

Layla’s dream is for Lisa to play by the end of next season.

“I only have one year after this,” Layla said. “I hope we get to play together again. Everything would have to go pretty smooth, but that would be pretty special if we could play together again.

“The biggest thing we’ve learned through this is that there’s a lot more to life than hockey. In some talks with Lisa, she doesn’t really think about hockey as much as she thinks about doing daily things on her own, like walking and talking a shower. Those types of things go far beyond hockey.”

Lisa has many goals ahead.

First, she wants to get her knee back to full strength. Then, she will focus on her arm and her nerves. She also wants to thank the woman who blocked traffic and give her the snowflake blanket back.

She also tries to get out of the house when she can, and come to Grand Forks to watch her team play. Since the accident, her teammates have gone 14-4-2 and surged into the national rankings.

Lisa has been able to see her team play a few times in person. She was in attendance earlier this month when UND upset No. 2 Minnesota.

“When she comes in the locker room,” Layla said, “the girls get pretty excited.”

But they all know there are still many long days ahead for Lisa.

“It’s really emotional and hard to see someone so close to you, that’s part of your family, go down like that,” Layla said as a tear ran down her cheek. “It’s tough not having her. Even now, it’s still hard not having her around the rink and at home. The journey for her is nowhere near the end. It’s going to be a long time before she gets better again. We just have to say a little prayer each and every day and hope everything works out.”

 

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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