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Walking by Washington, D.C.
By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
Calesta Markgraf will spend most of the holiday season sitting in a wheelchair, but she's determined to be on her feet and ready to travel across the country by March.
That's when she and her 13-year-old daughter, Nicole, plan to join other Baker students on a tour of the Washington, D.C., area. It's the same trip her husband, Bill, made with their son, Eugene, four years ago.
The flight will be the first she's made since she was flown out of the Eagle Cap Wilderness by helicopter after an Oct 18 horseback riding accident. She was hurt when her horse, Lady, made a misstep as she and her family were riding horseback along the mountain trail leading out of Crater Lake.
"I remember my horse losing her footing and that's it," she said. "When (Bill) got to me, he wasn't sure I was even alive."
Three hours later, the rescue effort coordinated by the Baker County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team had Markgraf aboard Life Flight and on her way to St. Alphonsus Hospital in Boise.
She remembers little of what happened in those first hours. Two days later Monday, Oct. 21 she underwent surgery to help repair some of the nerve damage she sustained in the fall. A crushed vertebrae was removed and repairs were made to her backbone. Until the repair fuses, she must wear a torso brace while she's upright to prevent her from twisting or bending out of alignment.
She returned home after a lengthy hospital stay and then several more weeks at the Elks Rehabilitation Center in Boise.
She's eager to return to her former life as wife, mother and helpmate for her children's school activities and 4-H clubs and the family business, Markgraf Construction. It's that desire and her determination to make the trip to Washington, D.C., with her daughter that spurs her dedication to her physical therapy regimen.
For now, she's learning to use a walker. She wears braces on her legs to support her ankles, which are numb and tend to fold under her rather than hold her upright. Nerves that were severed grow at about the same rate as fingernails, she has learned. It could take up to two years for complete healing to occur, her doctor tells her.
A physical therapist travels to her home twice a week to help her work to regain the use of her legs; she and her family also work on exercises designed to help build her strength. Pain medication helps her cope with muscle spasms as her damaged nerves come back to life.
As Christmas approaches, her family is taking each day as it comes. There will be no major purchases as they wait for bills to come in, but she's determined not to let that distress her.
"We just decided we weren't going to worry about the bills," she says. "It's not going to do any good to sit and stew over it."
An early Christmas gift arrived Dec. 7 in the form of a community fund-raiser to help the Markgrafs with medical expenses not covered by insurance. About 300 people attended the benefit, which raised more than $15,000, according to organizer Scott Warner.
"That was our Christmas party," Kay Markgraf, Calesta's mother-in-law, said of the event.
The family was touched by the outpouring of support displayed by those attending who bought donated items, raffle tickets and Christmas trees as well as presenting cash gifts.
"We're grateful and thankful for everything they've done for us," Calesta said of the community support they've received throughout her ordeal.
In addition to her immediate family, friends and associates have beaten a path to her home with meals and support. Her mother-in-law and father-in-law, Gus Markgraf, take turns with other family members to ensure that she has whatever she needs to speed her recovery.
With Christmas still two weeks away, it's too early to know whether Calesta will be up to traveling to Drewsey where her family usually joins the family of her sister, Cindy Sitz, to celebrate. Holiday plans also are on hold with their Baker County relatives, which in addition to their Markgraf relations include her father, Richard Sly, and her grandmother, Louise Sly, both of Halfway.
Despite the uphill battle before her, Calesta has a ready explanation for how she maintains her positive attitude.
"More than anything, I have an extremely good support system," she said. "We just haven't focused on the negative part of it. We're grateful and thankful. The outcome could have been a whole lot worse."