Out of the cold night: Evanson survives near tragedy with help from family and community

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Derek and Casey Evanson with their children (left to right) Aiden, 9; Rachel, 5; and Corbin, 11. Said Casey, “I feel very fortunate that I was able to walk away and am still here today to love on my family.” (Submitted photos)

To this day, Casey still has residual effects from the accident, including occasional vertigo and migraines.

As a result of her 2018 accident, Casey was taken by ambulance to Gundersen in La Crosse. She was treated for a head laceration, broken nose, broken right eye socket with an eyeball that was slightly pushed in, vertigo and traumatic brain injury. Her surgeon told her he had “stopped counting stitches.”

Casey focuses on the love and support she received from so many individual people and from Friends Helping Friends.

By Becky Ruff, Special to the Times-Register


The night of Jan. 2, 2018, began peacefully enough for Casey Evanson of rural Monona. Only a few miles from home, she left her sister Halie Ruff’s house around 9 p.m. after a fun girls night painting party. Driving her husband Derek’s truck, she hit a patch of black ice and lost control. 


“All I remember of the moment was ‘God, please let me see my kids again,’” said Casey. “It was the most surreal ‘Jesus take the wheel’ moment.” 


Instead of rolling down the steep embankment on the right side of the road, the truck smashed into the rocks on the left side.


Casey’s next thought was to get out of the truck. “I don’t remember exactly how I got out, but I remember thinking ‘Oh man, Derek is going to be so mad I wrecked his truck.’” She felt her forehead and thought she had just cut her eyebrow. Her next thought was to find her phone to call her husband, and, miraculously, she was able to locate her cell phone under the hood of the truck, which was now on its top. She started walking up the hill to her home, but she didn’t get far before blood started pouring from her head and her face started throbbing with pain. In a remote area that typically has no cell reception, by another miracle she was somehow able to get calls out to her husband and then her mother, Cindy Halvorson, of rural McGregor, who had left the party just ahead of her. 


From there, Casey said, “Everything after that moment was a blur of immense pain, trying to hold my scalp on, crying and wanting to pass out at the same time.”  


Derek Evanson reached his wife first and was soon joined by the fire department and Casey’s mother, who had called 911 after speaking to her daughter. 


Cindy recalls the moment she saw Casey: “I thanked the good Lord she was alive and could get through to us, but she was basically scalped. There was blood all over, she was bloody and swollen, her eye was swollen shut and I worried if there was brain damage. I remember going into ‘protective mother mode’ and looking at her, trying to be strong and not to cry.” 


Casey was rushed to the emergency room at Crossing Rivers in Prairie du Chien. Derek had called Cindy’s husband, Jay, and he came to the ER and helped stay with Casey until she was taken by ambulance to Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center in La Crosse. 


“I was treated for a head laceration, a broken nose, broken right eye socket with the eyeball pushed in slightly, vertigo and traumatic brain injury. I had an amazing surgeon who kept things light when I asked him if he would need to shave my head to stitch it up, since I told him I would look funny with my bald, lumpy, round head. He said, ‘No, but it probably would have been easier with the mess of hair that I had.’” 


“I also asked how many stitches he had placed, and he said he quit counting stitches and started counting packs,” added Casey. She remained in the hospital for several days. 


“We prayed a lot,” said Cindy. “Derek and I stayed there 24/7, and Halie prepared the kids (sons Corbin and Aiden and daughter Rachel) that ‘mom is going to look different—don’t be scared of her.’” 


Once Casey was released from the hospital, Cindy stayed with her the first couple of nights. After that, she went home and returned each day around 4 a.m. to stay all day and make meals, and then help the kids with homework and get settled for the night. She also took Casey to many of her after-care appointments.  


“People at work were wonderful and took on extra duties so I could be with Casey,” Cindy related. 


Casey said, “I had to do follow up care with the surgeon for a few months, as well as chiropractor appointments, and some physical therapy to help with my vertigo. I remember being so self-conscious of how my face was affected after the accident, afraid my kids would be scared of me. It was their hugs and love that helped me learn to love myself again, scars and all.”


People from the area responded with kindness and compassion when they heard about Casey’s accident. “I received so much help from family and friends, even strangers. I honestly don’t think we could have made it through like we did without them,” said Casey. “I had people bringing meals, offering to help watch our children, help out around the house, come out and keep me company as I couldn’t be left alone for a short while after the accident, and offering prayers and well wishes.” 


School personnel also helped ease things for Casey and Derek’s children. Casey sid, “Thankfully, their teachers and all of the staff at school were so supportive and very understanding to our situation and helped the kids through this very traumatic event.”


Despite the positive progress and outpouring of help, the medical bills started to pile up. The family had insurance, but coverage only stretched so far, and they worried about replacing a vehicle and being able to keep their farm, which they had purchased only a few months before. At that time, Casey was a stay-at-home-mom who ran a small bakery business out of her home.


“We had worked so hard to get to that point in our lives and the thought that it could all go away in a blink of an eye was terrifying,” shared Casey.


MFL MarMac Friends Helping Friends reached out to Cindy first. “Linda Jones called and told me that Friends Helping Friends wanted to make Casey one of the beneficiaries,” said Cindy, who relayed the message to Casey.  


“I knew about Friends Helping Friends from previous years,” said Casey. “Derek and I had attended their benefits for the winter triathlon. I honestly thought it was a small group of people who raised funds for people going through cancer treatments in McGregor. I had no idea of the extent of work and how far out these amazing people reach. I was so taken back, I teared up that they thought of me. I didn’t feel worthy enough to be a recipient, that perhaps what had happened to me wasn’t as terrible as some others’ misfortunes.”


To this day, Casey still has residual effects from the accident, including occasional vertigo and migraines, and the scar that courses from her forehead through her hairline. Yet she said, “I feel very fortunate that I was able to walk away and am still here today to love on my family, and I take nothing for granted.”  


She focuses on the love and support she received from so many individual people and from Friends Helping Friends. As a result, Casey, Cindy and Jay have all become more actively involved in the group, donating their time and items and attending meetings, as well as promoting Friends Helping Friends to others to recruit volunteers.


“We were able to make it through,” said Casey. “And for that I am forever grateful to our wonderful supportive community. I remember being asked to say a few words that night at the Friends Helping Friends benefit after the auction. I was simply blown away at the generosity of others, the number of people who showed up or donated for people they may have never met, for situations they were only recently made aware of. I was moved to tears and could barely speak. All I remember saying was I was so thankful to still be here, and I was so proud of our community and there is no other place in this world I would rather call home. The love and support I have felt and received is unmatched and will be with me forever.”


This year’s MFL MarMac Friends Helping Friends Benefit will be held on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 10 and 11, with events at Backwoods Bar and Grill and Pocket City Pub in McGregor. This year’s beneficiaries are Sarah Whitney, Joe Lenz and Shannon Nelson. Find more information in the ad in this week’s Times-Register, or visit the “Friends Helping Friends MFL Mar-Mac” Facebook page.

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