Kennewick teen says she's on the mend mentally, physically after being injured at church camp

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 26, 2013 

Cassidy Almquist

Cassidy Almquist, is recovering in her parents Kennewick home after spending about a month at a Seattle hospital. Cassidy was seriously injured in a fall from a swing while at a church camp in Oregon.

RICHARD DICKIN — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

— When Cassidy Almquist began her latest physical therapy sessions a few weeks ago, the nurses had to watch her like a hawk.

It had been several months since the Kennewick teen fell more than 40 feet from a swing at a church camp, leaving her unable to walk and with a shattered elbow that needed reconstruction.

"They didn't want me to put more weight than necessary on my arms," the 18-year-old told the Herald.

But Cassidy's drive to strengthen her broken body has given her family, her doctors and herself some hope of walking again.

"I'm ready to push myself," said the Southridge High School senior, who has received support from around the world and almost 110,000 "likes" on her Facebook page.

Cassidy was working at the Bar M Ranch in Eastern Oregon in mid-July when she fell, fracturing her pelvis, breaking her right leg and crushing her right elbow. She also broke vertebrae in her spine but her spinal cord remained intact.

Her parents, Mark and Kari Almquist, said she was improperly fitted for a harness, causing her to fall from the swing's starting platform.

Cassidy was hospitalized for about a month at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center. Photos of X-rays on her dad's cellphone showed how her shattered bones were wrapped in metal wire and rods. A long purple scar curls slightly around her right elbow.

Her recovery has been slow but progressive. Cassidy now can propel herself in her wheelchair, and she's in occupational therapy to learn how to do more things for herself, such as getting dressed.

Her latest round of rehab required her to stand and place much of her body weight on her legs, and have electric shocks stimulate her muscles for pedaling exercises.

Tests show Cassidy is regaining nerve control, and she's experiencing new sensations and pains that are seen as positive signs. But it's unclear how long it could take for her to walk under her own power.

That means she's mostly homebound and depends on her parents for much of her care, from carrying her wheelchair up and down stairs to helping her with daily tasks.

Cassidy said she also is in a better place mentally than a few months ago.

"I had progress but I was dealing with so many other things," she said. "Now I get up in the morning and am ready to get my day started."

She may rejoin her Southridge High classmates at the beginning of spring semester but likely only for a class or two a day.

The cost of Cassidy's care also hangs above the family. Her transport by plane and helicopter to Seattle cost $62,000 alone. She's covered by her mother's insurance, but the bills are stacking up. The family has filed a claim with Bar M Ranch's insurance company and is waiting to see what the next step will be.

"We need to make sure she's cared for," said Kari Almquist, who works for an adoption agency. Her dad is a private investigator.

Despite the challenges, Cassidy and her parents said they're buoyed by the support from the Tri-City community.

Tens of thousands of dollars were collected through various fundraisers and benefits within days of her fall. The money paid for accessibility changes to the Almquists' west Kennewick home, including making the family's kitchen easier for Cassidy to use in her wheelchair.

The teen also has become a local personality, often stopped by people when she's out shopping with her parents or seen somewhere else in town.

"We've had so many people want to get pictures with her," said Kari Almquist. Cards and notes of encouragement have come from around the world, many from former Tri-City residents or military service members serving overseas.

"I love it, it's so sweet to hear them say I inspire them," Cassidy said, adding she doesn't feel worthy of so much attention.

Most importantly, though, she is getting back to what her life was like before. She recently started again attending the church youth group that she leads.

She's working with a Kennewick School District tutor to stay on track for graduation this spring and, as before, struggling with math.

Music, a passion she relied on in the days after her fall, again is taking center stage in her life.

She's scheduled to perform at the First Night celebration on New Year's Eve at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick. She hasn't decided yet what to sing but her boyfriend, Jantzen Filbrun, will be joining her.

"I probably wouldn't do it without him," Cassidy said with a laugh. "He really has no choice."

Jantzen, 17, said it's been crazy and humbling to watch Cassidy, whom he's known since the sixth grade, and her family go through the struggles of the past few months.

It helped him put things in perspective as well, and he spends as much time with her as her recovery and his time after work and school allow.

"It's been hard seeing her go through it but that's how God had it happen," he said. "She has his love and joy, that's the only reason she's still singing."

When graduation comes this spring, she may walk across the stage to receive her diploma or roll up in her wheelchair.

"There are days she's stronger than me," her mother said.

There also are other things to look forward to. Cassidy soon will have a new custom, lightweight wheelchair, painted in "electric plum" being made of titanium at TiLite in Pasco.

And then there's the new yellow Labrador retriever puppy she's been promised will arrive next month.

"I'm going to call her Hope," Cassidy said.

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