Athletic trainer returns to class after fatal car accident, two-year layoff

By Gus Bode

Marvin and Donna Fuehne were fast asleep when they got the call about their daughter that would change their lives forever.

“That was an awful call … they had already airlifted her to (Saint Louis University Hospital), and just knowing that hospital, it’s usually pretty critical,” Donna Fuehne said. “We just didn’t know anything, (we) took off and left to go down there. They told us she was in an accident, but they couldn’t tell us any details of her condition.”

Crystal Fuehne, now athletic trainer for the SIU volleyball team, drove with six of her friends from Keyesport to a friend’s cabin by Carlyle Lake to celebrate the end of her junior year. Shortly after midnight on May 24, 2009, a drunk driver swerved into their lane, hit their car, killed three of her friends and put Crystal Fuehne into a medically induced coma for two months. Crystal Fuehne is back at SIUC now to finish what’s left of her athletic training degree, but it wasn’t an easy road back. Crystal Fuehne’s recollection of the entire event, as well as the months that followed, were based solely on what her parents and two of the survivors, John Lampen and Casey Athmer, told her.


“I don’t remember anything about the accident. I don’t even remember taking the finals, or even a month before the accident,” she said. “As far as I knew, my friends that died just went on vacation.”

Crystal Fuehne broke five vertebrae in her back, along with her jaw and shoulder blade. Her most severe injury was to the left side of her brain, which meant a lot of her recovery time was spent getting movement back in her right arm and leg.

“I was in the ICU for two months, then I went to St. Mary’s in Clayton, Mo., and I don’t remember, roughly, the first two weeks of that,“ Crystal Fuehne said. “My mom said I couldn’t sit up or do anything like that.”

Not only could she not sit up, she needed several surgeries on her brain due to complications. Doctors couldn’t operate on her back until some of those complications were resolved, and she ran high fevers while time was spent regaining basic motor functions, which was hard for her parents to bear.

“The doctors told us with a brain injury, it’s a very, very slow process,” Donna Fuehne said. “It’s just two steps forward, and one step back. It seemed like every time we turned around, something was happening again.”

Once she made it to Saint Mary’s, the recovery process went smoother for Crystal Fuehne. She started physical therapy, regained half her strength in her right arm, and was also able to communicate “yes” or “no” for the first time since the accident.


She worked with a speech therapist a few days after she was admitted to Saint Mary’s and finally spoke her first words since the accident.

“For two months, we didn’t really know if she was going to make it or not. At one point, (the doctors) told us they didn’t think she’d be able to talk again,” Donna Fuehne said. “Then all of a sudden, one day she said ‘Mom.’ Oh my gosh, I’ll never forget that day.”

Crystal Fuehne continued to make progress during her stay at Saint Mary’s. She walked more and more each day with assistance, continued her work with the speech therapist, and she was discharged Aug. 20, 2009, and started physical therapy at the Center for Comprehensive Services in Carbondale.

“She was already walking, so we needed to work on her balance, strength and help her utilize the right side of her body a little bit more,” said physical therapist Eric Manzano. “We wanted her to walk on her own and a lot better than she did her first day here.”

Crystal Fuehne continued to work with Manzano and the staff at CCS for the next two years, gradually decreasing the amount of days she spent there until she had her last session with Manzano Aug. 11.

“We felt that she was one of our success stories,” Manzano said. “How she is now compared to how she was when she first got here, she’s done very well for herself. She worked really hard and she was really motivated.”

Crystal Fuehne is now enrolled in three classes while also working toward getting her drivers license back, though she said her degree is her top priority.

“Life has been a lot different. I used to go out all the time,” Crystal Fuehne said. “That has definitely slowed down in my group of friends.”

Crystal Fuehne admits she still has trouble coping with her limitations. Think First — an organization that preaches brain and spinal cord injury prevention — held a golf scramble fundraiser for Crystal in Keyesport the weekend of Oct. 14. Even though she wasn’t really a golfer before, she said it was hard for her to sit on the sidelines.

“I just sat there and thought ‘You could be out there golfing,’ and really got down on myself,” Crystal Fuehne said. “But then I had to remind myself ‘Crystal, you have a good life, but you can‘t have everything.’”

After Crystal Fuehne finishes her degree, she said she might try to get certified to become an occupational therapist’s assistant.