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HOME, SWEET HOME
By T.L. Petersen
Observer Staff Writer
Chris and Diane Daggett of Elgin know exactly how to define a miracle.
Their daughter, Amy.
Chris Daggett was at work Dec. 11 at Boise Cascade in Elgin. Diane Daggett was at work at Fleetwood Travel Trailers. Amy, 20, home from Oregon State University, was going to use her father's pickup truck to take her grandmother to La Grande for a doctor's appointment.
Highway 82 was icy.
The pickup collided head-on with a loaded log truck north of Island City. The vehicles ended up off the east side of the highway, burning.
The grandma, Elvera Trump, 77, died in the crash. Amy Daggett was critically injured. The log truck driver was able to pull the women from the pickup.
Chris Daggett remembers when officers tracked him down at work, asking if he knew who would have been using his pickup that morning.
It took longer to reach Diane, then for both of them to get together in La Grande and head to Boise, where their daughter had been flown by medical transport.
The news at St. Alphonsus Medical Center was not good.
Amy, their only child, was alive; but her chances were listed as
Amy Daggett remembers none of this. She doesn't remember that December day, nor does she remember bringing home Christmas presents when she returned to Elgin for the holiday break.
With a little shrug, Amy admits she doesn't remember her junior year fall term at all.
And that's OK. Because today Amy is home, recovering, walking, enjoying her dog, Belle, planning to work in her mother's flower gardens this summer, and putting on weight thanks to Diane's barbecued chicken a family favorite that Amy says she missed while in the hospital.
Amy sits at the Daggetts' kitchen table while her parents relax nearby. She is thin and her bright red hair is clipped short. Her left arm is carried in a sling and there are still gauze wrappings on her right arm; a healing burn mark on her right cheek draws her fingers there.
Amy returned home April 19, driving into Elgin to see signs, friends and families waiting. And Belle.
"I was so excited," Amy says. She didn't know about the welcome-home signs, or the decorating that had been going on, but when the family pulled into their driveway on the edge of Elgin, "we had a house full," Amy says.
Diane Daggett had come home a week earlier for the first time since December to prepare Amy's room.
The day marked a return to something like normal life a life the Daggetts are now beginning to think might someday happen.
Diane Daggett is staying home with Amy for at least another month, she says, since Amy has physical therapy three times a week in La Grande to work on improving flexibility and stamina.
The therapy, Amy adds, is the worst part of her life these days. The stretching, says the former high school athlete, "is the worst."
But the stretching and stamina work is needed, Diane Daggett explains, both because of the damage that occurred to Amy's body in the accident, and from the brain injury itself.
"Right now, I'm doing OK," Amy says. A smile lights up her face as she studies her parents. Are they spoiling her? "Oh, yeah."
Technically, Amy is doing remarkably well. Her language skills are at 75 to 80 percent of normal, with expectations that they will return to 85 to 90 percent with continued therapy, Diane Daggett said. The burns on her right hand and wrist are healing, her colostomy was reversed before she left the hospital and has healed, and while another surgery may be needed on her left arm to repair damaged nerves, the contacts have been made for that to happen in Seattle.
For herself, Amy is taking it easy. Her personal plans this summer, she says, "are to sit on my butt," a decision her parents warn isn't likely to happen. They have plenty for her to do.
And as for healing, well, Amy is quick to say that she can say whatever she wants to say, she's got "some nifty scars," and living
without the use of her left arm is frustrating.
She plans to return to Oregon State in January to work on finishing her business degree.
And she wants to let her hair grow. She had trimmed it shorter than she wore it in high school, she says, looking at a high school picture. "The butch" look, she says, can't grow fast enough.
The mood changes as Amy listens to her parents remember what those first days after the accident were like.
"Yeah, I believe it happened," she said, trying to piece the missing months together. "That's why I was in the hospital forever.
"It's sad, my grandmother was with me. I didn't know that for a long time."
Amy and her parents are planning to write to the log-truck driver soon to share their thanks.
"We're glad he was there and alert enough to pull them out (of the burning pickup)," Diane Daggett says.
The Daggett family has been overwhelmed by the support of their community and employers. Fleetwood, Diane Daggett says, set the family up with a rental car in Boise and took care of other details immediately after learning of the accident.
"We live in a pretty special place," Chris Daggett says. "We want to tell everyone a real big thank you for everything."
He's also urging everyone he meets to obtain a Lifeflight membership. "You never know when you'll need it."
And as for that missing Christmas, it finally happened Thursday night, April 25, just four months late.
"I bought presents I didn't even remember," Amy laughs.
And for Chris and Diane Daggett, that laughter, those smiles, are miracles.