She was severely injured in January snowmobile accident.
Wearing a brace that protects much of her upper torso, Anna Peterson slowly but steadily lifts one leg at a time, one after the other, and makes her way over a series of rainbow-colored, curved obstacles that rise maybe eight inches from the floor below her.
A casual observer would conclude that Peterson seems pretty steady on her feet. But that same observer would also surmise that it’s probably a good thing that Molly Hanson is standing right next to Peterson, gently guiding her along the way and ready to step in quickly if her patient suddenly needs more help.
On this April afternoon at Choice Therapy, located at 1728 North Front Street in Crookston, it’s obvious that Peterson has already come a long, long way from the events that transpired along U.S. Highway 2 on January 10 of this year – her birthday – when a snowmobile accident almost killed her.
“There was a washout on the trail and I didn’t see it,” said Peterson, who was riding with her husband, Mark, and a group of around 20 other snowmobilers.
She recalls begging those in her group who rushed to her aid to move her to safety as they waited for the ambulance. But her friends refused, something for which Peterson said she’ll be forever grateful. Moving her almost certainly would have made her injuries even worse, potentially paralyzing her. Peterson ended up being airlifted via helicopter to the hospital.
She suffered a fractured spine and several broken and/or shattered vertebrae and sustained numerous other broken bones, including both arms, as well as nerve damage. Peterson was in the hospital for two months. Once it was time to begin rehab, she began appointments three days a week at Choice Therapy...occupational therapy (OT) sessions with Hanson (master of OT), and physical therapy (PT) with Robin Tracy (doctor of PT).
At the time of the Times’ visit with Peterson and Hanson, Peterson was a week away from returning in a part-time capacity to her job at the University of Minnesota Regional Extension office in Crookston, and was still required to wear her cumbersome brace whenever her body was positioned at any angle greater than 30 degrees. (Update: Peterson is back at work part-time, Hanson reports, and continues to make strides in her therapy.)
“It’s really tough stepping over things,” Peterson said during her session that day with Hanson. “But you kind of need to lose your balance to find your balance again.”
OT is not just about things a person does at their workplace, Hanson explained. “It’s about getting back to the every-day…brushing your teeth, getting dressed,” she said. “Things we do without hardly thinking twice, but for someone like Anna trying to come back from major injuries is a huge thing.”
The Petersons live in a split-level home, and Anna said she was essentially a paraplegic when she got home. “First it was, ‘We have to get Anna home. How do we get Anna home?’” she recalled. “Then it became, ‘How am I going to be able to be at home?’ I had to learn to walk again. And stairs? There was no way.”
A “grabber” tool became one of her most constant companions, as she had to reach for things in the kitchen, and reach for clothes in the closet. Early on, it took an agonizing and frustrating hour to get dressed.
As she’s made progress at Choice Therapy, Hanson said being able to do more is part of the picture, but just as important is building up stamina. “The goals ramp up and it gets tougher, by design,” Hanson said, as Peterson nods in agreement.
“It gets to be so much about pain management. What can I endure?” Peterson said. “I have a lot of nerve damage and therapy stimulates the nerves. I need my nerves to fire so they’ll grow. It’s so painful, but if I’m making progress that kind of pain is a good thing.”
Will she make a full recovery?
“I don’t know. Nerves can take a long, long time to get back to where they were, if they ever do,” Peterson said. “But I’m here, which is a long way from where I was. And I’m walking.”
‘Started from nothing’
Choice Therapy is a private practice outpatient therapy clinic that is part of a larger Choice Therapy network. In Crookston, Hanson and Tracy offer outpatient treatment for occupational and physical therapy. “We take pride in providing quality, evidence-based treatment for various conditions including, sports rehabilitation injuries, post-surgical rehab, workman’s comp injury, general orthopedic conditions, vestibular/ balance disorders, conditions of the upper and lower extremity, neurological rehab, soft tissue injuries, pediatrics, post-stroke rehabilitation, and a vast majority of conditions related to neuromuscular and musculoskeletal body systems,” they say on their website, https://www.choicetherapy1.com/locations/crookston/
Hanson estimates they see around 70 patients a week.
“We started with nothing,” Hanson recalls of when Choice Therapy first opened its doors in the former Church of Christ location at the corner of Fisher Avenue and North Front. “The first day we had zero patients. On day two, we had one,” she said. “We’ve been very happy to be able to continue to grow from there.”