Home for the holidays

After a brain condition, multiple surgeries and a coma, Kassie Harms of NYA has made a remarkable recovery. Her family recently celebrated another milestone when she returned home in time for the holidays. (Times photo by Paul Downer)
After a brain condition, multiple surgeries and a coma, Kassie Harms of NYA has made a remarkable recovery. Her family recently celebrated another milestone when she returned home in time for the holidays. (Times photo by Paul Downer)

She survived a life-threatening brain condition. She endured multiple surgeries that left her in a coma for three months. She baffled doctors who said she would likely never walk, see or recover her memory again, even if she did manage to survive.

Now, she’s home.

Kassie Harms, a 2009 graduate of Central High School, returned to her family in Norwood Young America in time for the holiday season, enjoying Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. And after her hospital stays and a two-year stint in a transitional home in Golden Valley, she doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.

“I’m home for good!” she said. “Thank you to the community, because they’ve been supporting me in all of this, in every way possible.”

A pair of local benefits were held for Harms in NYA back in 2010, and while she has made a remarkable recovery to this point, she has not yet returned to where she wants to be, nor has it been a straight road of steady improvement.

This past summer she had begun to walk distances of up to 200 feet without any assistance from a cane or walker, but a combination of staff change at her home, a stoppage in therapy and a loss of motivation caused a sudden regression in her progress. Her mother, Lana Bladow, observed a heartbreaking reversal of her abilities. Harms gradually returned to using a walker, was slipping into depression and was on her way back to a wheelchair when the family acted.

“She started to regress. So that kicked us into a higher gear to figure out how to get her home,” said Bladow. “Now that she’s been home — even in the last month — we’re seeing a lot more independence, a more positive attitude. And we’ve been weaning her off inappropriate medications. There are side effects to begin with, and then the side effects to coming off of it — it takes a toll, what they call brain zaps. So Lakeview Clinic has been great about helping us look at alternative options and getting her off some of these things.”

Harms admitted that she had begun to let things slide while living at the transitional home, spending too much time on her computer rather than working to improve her short-term memory and pursuing other physical and mental challenges.

“I was going backward. There were a lot of falls,” she said.

But coming home has stopped that slide and given her a fresh start.

“I love it,” she said. “Every day is a new day.”

Her mother agreed.

“Now we see a better fight in her again, a renewed focus,” she said.

And Harms is staying busy. She is the maid of honor for her sister’s wedding this coming September, so there are wedding preparations to undertake and personal improvements to pursue. One goal is to be able to walk down the aisle on the big day. Longer range goals are to return to working at All Saints Church and Ridgeview Medical Center, and eventually to be able to drive again.

“We set our goals higher, and have small goals to work up to,” said Harms.

To make that happen, she has continued going to occupational and physical therapy at least three times per week, and Bladow keeps her daughter from taking much of a break at home.

“We do therapy at home too. I don’t cut her much slack at home,” said Bladow. “We don’t give her the option of quitting. But I don’t think she’d have it any other way.”
Harms said she doesn’t mind.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s good for me. I can’t wait until I can come back to work,” she said.

The family hopes to get her involved in a day work program sometime early this year. In the meantime, efforts to continue receiving insurance coverage take up a great deal of Bladow’s time.

“We still fight insurance on a daily basis because they still look at traumatic brain injury as, once it is past the one year anniversary, there’s no more recovery. So it’s a daily battle to get her to therapy and get her the treatment she needs,” she said. “If we weren’t seeing process I would understand, but she was walking about 200 feet with no help [just a short time ago].”

Kassie’s stepfather, Brad Bladow, said that the treatment situation has also improved since returning to the local medical scene.

“It just helps to get different eyes on the situation. They had seen her from where she was before, basically in a vegetative state, to where she is now, and they were saying, ‘Well, this is as good as it gets.’ Now we can get new eyes on it that are focused on getting her the treatments,” he said.

One of the improvements has been electrical stimulation treatments to her left foot, in which she has little if any movement.

To those who doubted her ability to recover further, Harms was dismissive.

“They don’t know who I am. I’m not as far as I need to go,” she said. “I need to keep working on my foot, strengthening it, and my memory.”

Above all else, the family wished to express its sincere thanks to the community for its continuing support through its trials.

“The community, All Saints, everybody has been such amazing support. You don’t realize how great it is to live in a small community until you get an opportunity like this,” said Lana. “That makes a big difference in all of us as a family, whether it’s her recovery or us trying to support her recovery.”

“We’d like the community to know that we haven’t forgotten about the support that they have given, and we just want to reinforce our thank you,” said Brad.

For anyone interested in continuing to follow Kassie’s story, she still writes on her Caring Bridge website on a near daily basis. That website is www.caringbridge.org/visit/kassieharms.

“I’m doing great,” she said.

Contact Paul Downer at [email protected]