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Saluki student trainer educates students on dangers of drunk driving

October 19, 2011

By Megan Kramper
Saluki Media Services

If you had asked Crystal Fuehne a year ago where she would be, the last place she would have thought would be back on the sidelines.

A student trainer for Saluki Athletics since 2006, Fuehne’s life changed on Memorial Day weekend 2009 when she was involved in a drunk driving accident near Keysport, Ill. in rural Clinton County.

According to reports, Fuehne, a native of Breese, Ill. and the evening’s designated driver, was driving west near Carlyle Lake as she and her six friends riding in a Cadillac Escalade collided with a drunk driver going north, who ran a stop sign. Fuehne’s SUV flipped as it landed in a nearby field.

Three of Fuehne’s friends died on impact. She and another passenger were left in critical condition. Fuehne’s injuries ranged from massive brain trauma to broken bones. She underwent numerous surgeries and spent two months in a coma at Saint Louis University Hospital.

SIU volleyball head coach Brenda Winkeler remembers visiting Fuehne for the first time in the hospital.

Crystal Fuehne spent two months in a coma after her accident

“I saw her shortly after the accident and she was in a coma and had all these tubes coming out and I just didn’t know if she would make it,” Winkeler said. “That’s the thing about her, she has this perseverance and determination. She’s a kid who was always laughing and joking around and always had a sense of humor.”

Doctors didn’t think she’d be able to walk or talk normally again. Three months after the accident she was moved into a rehabilitation center, where she spent countless hours in physical therapy. Fuehne spent two years rehabbing, learning how to walk and talk again and doing the basic things she was doing before the accident.

She recalled an exercise where she attempted to move blocks from one basket to another to see how many she could move in one minute.

“At the beginning of therapy, I only got three into my basket and toward the end, I had 20,” Fuehne said. “I couldn’t even grip the cube at the start of therapy.”

Fuehne still needs the assistance of a brace to help move her right leg, but now, she is walking and living on her own again. She returned to Carbondale this fall and resumed her studies in athletic training, where she is just a few credit hours shy of graduating.

“They say I’m a miracle,” Fuehne said. “They all thought I wouldn’t make it.”

Fuehne said the support from SIU coaches like Winkeler and softball head coach Kerri Blaylock, who she directly worked for before the accident, has been beneficial. She is currently doing some of her remaining practical hours working with the SIU volleyball team

“We have more than just the trainer-coach relationship, it’s more of a friendship now with Coach Blaylock and Coach Winkeler,” Fuehne said.

Crystal Fuehne and Brenda Winkeler

While some of the injuries she sustained in the accident may be permanent, Fuehne finds healing in talking about the accident.

Recently, Fuehne became involved in ThinkFirst, a national organization that educates people on personal vulnerability and the importance of making safe choices. Most of their message stems from people who have had traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries caused by accidents that could have been prevented.

Cori Maynor, coordinator of the Carbondale ThinkFirst chapter and an occupational therapist at NeuroRestorative in Carbondale, met Fuehne on her first day of treatment. She said since day one, Fuehne has been dedicated to her recovery.

“The unique thing about Crystal is her perseverance and hard work,” Maynor said. “She was very, very motivated and from day one, she was bound and determined that she was going to get better.”

Fuehne recently returned to her high school, Breese Central, as well as nearby Marion High School to talk to students about the consequences of drinking and driving. Fuhene said she was also asked by local D.A.R.E education officers and Sunday School classes in the Clinton County area to share her story.

“It means everything to me to go back and talk to these students about the consequences of drinking and driving because I could be dead right now,” Fuehne said. “It was just that one time someone ran a stop sign and I just happened to be there.”

As she tries to get back to a normal routine, including living on her own again, Fuehne says she is much more appreciative of the little things in life, including becoming an aunt in September.

“I just sit back and think ‘I possibly wouldn’t have been able to meet my niece’ and I just thank God every day I’m alive,” Fuehne said.

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3 Comments
  1. Jenny Schulte permalink

    Crystal is one of the most amazing people I have ever met! She is one of my best friends and I am so unbelievably proud of her. She is a wonderful person and just makes me smile every time I am around her. I love her so much!

  2. Marietta Sole permalink

    Thank you for sharing this story and for taking your experience to the schools, hopefully, the kids will take to heart a real life story as opposed to actors portraying an accident, not that we don’t appreciate those enactments at our schools, we do, but this proves that this is non-fiction, these accidents happen every day.

  3. Geri & Al permalink

    We are so very proud of you Crystal!! You ROCK!!

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