Inspired Woman Magazine

Dawn Ulmer, Surviving the Accident

Her Story: On March 2nd, 2013, I was on my way to watch my daughter Krista’s basketball game at Fort Yates. She was a freshman at Shiloh and was starting that night. I was excited because my husband and some of my family were coming from Mobridge to watch the game with me. (Dawn and her daughter moved to Bismarck in 2012 so Krista could attend a Christian school. Dawn was teaching at Shiloh.) I was driving fairly slow behind a school bus, and decided to pass.

It wasn’t long after when a car appeared at the top of a hill, out of control and crossing the yellow line. I remember things in slow motion, but they happened in a split second. I made a quick decision to swerve out of the way but he over corrected and shot across the road and hit me. I was told he was drunk and driving about 80 mph.

I was unconscious for quite a while, my skull was fractured. I heard voices as I faded in and out of consciousness, slowly realized someone was holding a rag over the left side of my face. Jerome Slag, the New Salem coach was the first person there, Tina Hartman from Shiloh was the second and Kathy Miller and her family were shortly behind.  When I regained consciousness, Kathy was holding the rag over my face and I felt excruciating pain pulsing through my body. It hurt so bad to breath and I can’t describe the pain in my knee.  I couldn’t look around, but noticed there was blood everywhere. I didn’t know it, but the engine was crushing my knee and foot.  No one knew if I was even going to make it to the hospital at that point.

As they pulled me out of the car I heard Kathy ask if she could ride with me in the ambulance. What a blessing! I faded in and out of consciousness, but remember hearing Kathy call ahead to Craig Lambrecht to prepare for my arrival.  She told the EMT’s to start an IV and I heard her pray.  Such a comfort, on a very miserable ride.  There was so much pain, and each breath felt like a knife stabbing my chest.  I had never felt so helpless, all my strength was gone.

fam pic 2I thought, ‘I have had a good life, things will be okay.’  I asked Kathy if my eye would be okay.  When she said, ‘I don’t know’,  I began to worry and prayed that it would. I wasn’t sure about my legs, so I prayed I would be able to walk. I kept wondering how I was going to get everything done, and be there for my girls, would I be useful?  There was an unexplainable peace, and no fear. I knew everything would be okay because it was in God’s hands.  He had surrounded me with people that were taking good care of me. He had “given His angels charge over me”.

I didn’t look at myself in the mirror for the first couple weeks, I knew it was bad. I had a hole in my eye lid, glass had been stuck in my eye and face, so it was swollen shut. There was even glass in my mouth. My skull and orbital bone below my eye were fractured, clavicle was fractured, my ribs were broken, my heart was bruised, my knee was crushed and my foot was broken. Pain from head to toe.

I was surrounded by my family – Cass, my other daughter, came from Concordia and the rest came from the game when they found out.  It was hard for my daughters, but they had to get back to their lives. Krista went back and played in the same gym two nights later and Cassidy had to go back to school. I am so proud of how brave and strong they were.

I was worried because this was the second time their lives were disrupted by tragedy.  In 2009 my husband, Todd, was in a head on collision with a diesel tanker. We didn’t know how bad the accident was, initially. He had dislocated his hip, broke the tip of femur, and had some lacerations.  The hospital in Mobridge didn’t feel comfortable working on his hip, so they sent him to Bismarck. What we didn’t know was that his spleen had ruptured. He crashed when we got here, needed seven units of blood and crashed again during the emergency

surgery. It took him about a year and a half to recover.  I didn’t want having another injured parent disrupt the girls’ lives.

Friends, family and students surrounded me with love and support – it was amazing! Originally they said I would have to stay in the hospital for two additional weeks for rehab, but I got to leave after the first two weeks, which was nice. I have had five surgeries to date – they pinned and wired crumbled pieces of my knee together.  My knee cap is not solid yet and the wire is still there.  The plate put in to mend my clavicle broke, so it has to be removed and my clavicle is not quite mended yet.  I have a plate in the middle of my forehead and below my eye.  The scar in my eye is much less prevalent then it was, thanks to a wonderful surgeon.

Kathy Miller took care of me at her house for over 2 months.  We rent a place with her daughter, Toni, so Krista stayed there and Toni filled in as a part-time mom. I was in a wheelchair for three months, then a walker. It was a slow, painful process for someone who was accustomed to going   90 mph.  I had so many encouraging people around me, but there were times where it would be easy to give in to the discouragement. My weapon against that was always my thankfulness for the good life we have had, my wonderful family, the people God put in my life. There was no other choice but to move forward.

I have learned that pain is something I am going to deal with every day. It is a battle. It is just a part of my life, a reminder of what I survived!

A month or so after the accident the many incredible people I met through Shiloh organized an unbelievable benefit!  I was overwhelmed. That was my first outing and when they rolled me in, I couldn’t even talk, I just started to cry. I had only known these people six months!  Some ask,  ‘are you ever angry that this happened to you?’ but I look at it and think, ‘I did not deserve all the good things in my life before AND after the accident’

I have always said, ‘If you plan to give more than you take you will never be disappointed.’ I could never give more than what they gave to me. That was why I wanted to go back to work so badly.

I had a surgery a week before I was supposed to go back and teach. (Fall of 2013) It was questionable whether or not I would be able to. I had to ride a motor scooter and pull my books in a little suitcase behind me. It was embarrassing, but I was so determined. I was only teaching half days, but even that was a challenge. The pain was still at a high level and some mornings I would just think ‘I can’t do this – it is just too hard!’ It seemed like a long dark road I was traveling.

I would pray for strength and listen to the Dallas Holmes CD my nephew gave me. There are 2 songs that always spoke to me, “This Too Shall Pass” and “Heal Me”. Somehow I would get ready for work and head out the door. God always provided the strength I needed for the day. The students were always so full of life and their energy is contagious. I had a reason to be there and they made it worth the struggle.

When the day was over, once I sat down, I literally couldn’t move for a while, my body was so tired and hurt so badly. I would call Cass to make sure she was doing okay, call Todd and wait for Toni and Krista to get home.

I look back at how many times I thought I wasn’t going to make it through a day and once again it makes me thankful for how far we have come.

I see double when I look to the left, the left side of my head is numb, and my head throbs from the sinus fracture and the plate. I have a lot of neck issues, I have numbness and pain in my left arm, and I get “zingers” from my injured clavicle and have pain in that area most of the time. My foot still hurts when I walk, my knee is stiff and painful, and the end of the wire that holds my knee cap together causes a lot of discomfort. But when I look back at how terrible the accident was and the condition I was in I am so thankful!

There are always brighter days to look forward to – I am so happy I get to enjoy life with my husband, daughters, family and wonderful friends and someday I will be able to do all the things I used to do. I feel like the accident could have been the “end of the game” for me, but now I am in overtime and there is a lot to accomplish. I just hope I do what I am here to do because overtime goes fast! We all must choose what to do with the days we are given – I hope I make a difference!

A favorite verse of Dawn’s:

Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. ~Isaiah 40:31


Inspired Woman Magazine

1 comment

  • Congratulations, Dawn! You’ve come through so much! I am so happy for your family that you are with them and FUNCTIONING!

    Best Wishes!

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