|Community support gives Owen family strength and encouragement|
|Written by Deborah Stone|
Life as the Owen family knew it changed irrevocably in a split second one late December afternoon, proving once again the fragility of human existence.
The Bothell couple, Tim and Cheryl Owen, along with their daughters Jessie, 27, and Jaime, 25, son Jeremy, 22, and son-in-law Steven Mayer, 25, were headed over Stevens Pass when a 125-foot old-growth tree, laden with wet snow, crashed onto their vehicle.
Cheryl and Tim were killed instantly.
Medics extracted Jessie, Jaime and Steven, who were trapped in the back seat, and took them to Central Washington Hospital.
Later, they were transferred to Harborview.
Jeremy, though bruised, was released after being treated.
Jaime, a law student at Seattle University and her husband Steven, a Microsoft employee, suffered extensive leg, arm and pelvic fractures, as well as serious internal injuries, while Jessie, a sixth grade teacher at Frank Love Elementary, sustained a catastrophic spinal cord injury and is currently paralyzed from the shoulders down.
Several months have gone by since the accident and after undergoing multiple surgeries, Jaime and Steven are now recovering together and receiving extensive physical therapy at Kindred, a skilled nursing facility.
Their prognoses are good, as neither suffered a spinal cord injury, but the recovery process is slow and rife with challenges.
Jaime was recently cleared to bear weight on her left leg and is now standing up and practicing walking with the help of parallel bars and her physical therapist. She will eventually progress to the next step – using a walker.
“The doctors say I should make a full recovery, but they can’t be 100 percent,” says Jaime. “They tell me I will be able to do what I used to do, but to what extent is the question.”
She notes that her husband Steven is progressing, too, but hasn’t been cleared to bear weight on either of his legs yet.
“He has similar injuries to mine, but he also broke his back,” she adds.
Currently, Steven is using a wheelchair to get around. The couple has been informed that in the future they will most likely return to Harborview for a few more months of inpatient rehab, followed by several months of outpatient therapy.
Jessie, who underwent two months of intensive inpatient rehabilitative therapy at Harborview Medical Center, recently joined her sister and brother-in-law at the nursing facility.
According to Jaime, Jessie is regaining some function and is now able to lift her arms up to her face and turn her body on a bed.
“She’s a fighter,” says Jaime. “She is determined that she will walk again and we believe she will get it back, but when, we don’t know. What we do know is that Jessie is very determined and she is doing awesome in her therapy. Her spirits are good and she is staying positive. We’re all trying to stay positive.” She adds, “We owe our strength to all the support we have received from family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, employers, the community and even complete strangers. Everyone has been so incredible, so amazing.”
She goes on to explain how devoted and thoughtful people have been, from sending cards and gift cards to making meals and donating to the family’s established relief fund.
A team of caregivers, consisting of family and close friends, continues to take shifts at the hospital and nursing facility to ensure that Jessie, Jaime and Steven always have companionship and an advocate to look after their needs and best interests.
Others have been looking after Jeremy, who has since returned to Eastern Washington University where he is a student.
However, he makes frequent visits back to the area to check on his sisters, both of whom he feels very protective to and who mean the world to him. The outpouring of support doesn’t surprise Christy Jennings, a neighbor and longtime friend of the Owen family.
“It’s a testament to what this family has meant to this community,” she says. “Tim and Cheryl were pillars of the community. They were very involved in everything and especially their kids’ activities.”
She notes that Tim, an insurance agent, served as a Northshore soccer and softball coach, and Cheryl was a manager at Amazon, had worked for Microsoft and was previously a community college consultant.
“Tim and Cheryl gave of themselves,” adds Jennings, “and it’s fitting that the community is now giving back to them. They are giving these kids the strength and ability to go on in life after such a terrible tragedy.”
Jaime, acting as spokesperson for the family, says that there aren’t enough words to express the amount of gratitude and appreciation she and her husband, and her sister and brother feel toward the community. She makes special mention of all the people who have honored her parents’ memories at the vigil held shortly after the accident, as well as via messages in cards and on the designated blog that Jennings created to keep others informed of the situation.
“These memories and stories are so important to us,” she comments, “and we are so grateful that people took the time to share them with us. They mean so much to us and we will treasure them. Thank you.”