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Duluth teen defies odds after life-threatening accident

DULUTH -- Two months after a car accident left Everett Bergren, 13, on life-support, he propels himself through hospital hallways by wheelchair with his left hand and greets nearly everyone with a hearty "Hi!"...

Everett Bergren
Everett Bergren uses his right hand and wrist to try and slide a beanbag off the table and into a basket on the floor while working with Krista Christensen, occupational therapist (left), and Joe Nosan, assistant physical therpist. Bergren was in therapy Thursday for trunk and neuro-muscular re-education at Miller-Dwan Rehabiliation Services at Essentia Health. (Bob King/ Forum Communications)

DULUTH -- Two months after a car accident left Everett Bergren, 13, on life-support, he propels himself through hospital hallways by wheelchair with his left hand and greets nearly everyone with a hearty "Hi!"

It's one of few words he can say, but those who have watched Everett's recovery continue to marvel at his progress.

Everett suffered a traumatic brain injury when the car driven by his grandmother, Paula Bergren, was struck by a drunk driver Jan. 19 on Woodland Avenue in Duluth. Bergren, 65, was killed in the accident.

Hawk Patrick Edwards, 19, a former Duluth man who had been living and working in the Williston, N.D., area, pleaded guilty Feb. 16 in St. Louis County District Court to criminal vehicular homicide resulting in the death of Paula Bergren. He also pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular operation causing great bodily harm to Everett Bergren.

The days immediately after the accident, when Everett lay in critical condition at Essentia Health St. Mary's Medical Center, were dark.

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"Nobody thought he'd wake up. Nobody thought he'd live," said Dr. Carolyn Forsman, his pediatric physiatrist at Miller-Dwan Rehabilitation Services, part of Essentia Health-Duluth.

Everett, a spirited boy who loves the outdoors, lost use of the right side of his body. The injury affects how he talks and understands others, and it affects his vision, Forsman said. Doctors believe he has about half his normal field of vision in his right eye. His left eye, injured in the accident, is just beginning to open a bit.

In mid-March, he began to regain some muscle control in the right side of his body.

"Can you lift your right leg?" asked his mom, Trista Turnbull, on a recent Thursday afternoon.

With what appeared to be significant effort, Everett raised his right leg about 8 inches above the footrest on his wheelchair.

"It's awesome," Forsman said, looking on. "He couldn't do that at all last week."

It is impossible to know the degree to which Everett will recover, Forsman said.

"He has come so much further than any of us expected," she said. "When he first came, he couldn't hold up his own head. He couldn't eat. He couldn't move his right side at all. Now he gets around in a wheelchair and can eat and drink regular food."

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In therapy, Everett is beginning to repeat two-word phrases. With someone helping move his right leg, he can walk a little. He cruises the halls at Miller-Dwan under his own power in his wheelchair.

Spring meant fishing

Everett always loved this time of year, because it meant fishing season was approaching. If he were fully able at the moment, he would probably be spending time on his favorite streams, trying to catch one of Lake Superior's steelhead migrating upstream to spawn.

Everett is passionate about the outdoors.

"He's been trapping and fishing and hunting since he was about 3ยฝ months old," said his grandmother, Tammy Mee of Duluth.

When he came to Jedlicka Middle School in Proctor, Minn., as a sixth-grader last year, he was happy to discover that one of his teachers, Dave Carman, also loved the outdoors. The two made an immediate connection.

"He was an outdoorsman through and through," Carman said. "We'd compare notes about steelhead fishing. He was like, 'How many eggs do you put in your spawn bag, Mr. Carman?' "

On a school canoe trip to the Brule River last spring, Carman introduced Everett to birding.

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"For the rest of that year and this year, he was telling me about every bird sighting," Carman said.

Everett got into trapping with the help of the Minnesota Trappers Association, Carman said.

"He was bringing in squirrel pelts that he trapped," Carman said. "He said he'd gotten a skunk, and we drew the line at that."

Officers pay a visit

Shortly after Everett's accident, Department of Natural Resources conservation officer Kipp Duncan of Duluth read about Everett in a news story.

"It said he was an outdoors boy, and his relatives mentioned that his dreams were to be a game warden. I figured, 'Well, maybe we should go visit him,' " Duncan said.

So, Duncan and several other officers went to see Everett.

"We never did get to see him. He was sleeping at the time," Duncan said.

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They left him a conservation officer's cap and a jacket.

For two months last summer, Everett lived with his aunt, Shelley Nicholson, on a lake near Gordonville, Texas.

"He's well beyond his years," Nicholson said. "He can outfish us. And he's very into trapping animals and skinning them. A neighbor found a snake, and he skinned it just to have the skin."

Much of his exposure to the outdoors came from his father, Ross Bergren, who is incarcerated in state prison at Faribault, Minn.

"His passion came from (his dad)," Turnbull said. "He did a lot of fishing with his dad."

And Everett was good at it.

"Trout ... you name it, he caught it," Turnbull said.

It is hard to say whether fishing and the outdoors will be part of Everett's life again. For now, he's taking one day at a time as he works with his therapists at Miller-Dwan, regaining as much of the old Everett as he can. In his recreational therapy, he uses a fishing rod to improve the use of his left arm and hand.

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"He's amazing," Forsman said. "He's never had a down day since he's been here."

Everett will stay at Miller-Dwan as long as he continues to improve, Forsman said. He will then need years of outpatient therapy.

Turnbull is gratified by her son's continuing recovery but knows there's a long road ahead.

"Now that he's doing better, I'm doing better," she said. "You worry about what his hopes and dreams were and what that's going to be. I still have my moments when I want to cry, and I do."

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