Drunk driver's crash victim travels long road to recovery - KMSP-TV

Drunk driver's crash victim travels long road to recovery

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Drunken driving crashes change lives forever, taking mobility, freedom and even lives. For one innocent Minnesota victim, all were true -- and his road to recovery is long, rippled with hills and valleys.

"Getting there is a big part of where you're going," Mark Engen told Fox 9 News.

Engen has been on his journey for months already.

"He has a long road and a lot of things to do yet," Jeanine Engen confirmed.

With such a long way to go, progress can feel slow -- but the road doesn't give much choice. .

"Life is too short to sit around and mope about things," Mark Engen stated.

Mark Engen's life was almost shortened on St. Patrick's Day as he was driving in the middle of the afternoon near Hallock, Minn.

"It was a wide open road, and bingo," Mark Engen recalled. "Got hit by a drunk driver."

That driver was carrying two passengers in his vehicle, and in his body, he was carrying twice as much booze than state law allows.

"It was a heck of a wreck," Mark Engen said.

The drunk driver survived, but his father and brother were killed in the crash. Mark Engen nearly died as well. Instead, however, he ended up at Hennepin County Medical Center in the metro, a 7-hour drive from his family's home in Warroad, Minn.

"It's all very upsetting," Mark Engen admitted.

Doctors literally put him back together: his face, his hip, his ankles -- almost every bone broken. His injuries were so severe that six months after the crash, he and his wife came back to the hospital to see if his left ankle and hip are any better.

The two need to cross a certain threshold of health before they can get back to the road, of all places.

"That was always our plan -- to hit the road," Jeanine Engen explained.

It's more than recreation -- it's a ritual. The autumn departure for warmer climes always involves a first stop in Minot, N.D. for America's largest Scandinavian festival -- the Norks Hostfest. They haven't missed one in 18 years.

"It is the highlight of the year," Jeanine Engen said.

The festival is in an important annual tradition not only because of the many friends the Engens have there, but also because Jeanine Engen plays in the Accordion Club -- a popular festival feature. The sound of that instrument kept her company during the long months she spent living alone in a small apartment in the Twin Cities while her husband recovered in the hospital.

"I played in the middle of the night. I played in the morning," Jeanine Engen recalled. "If I couldn't sleep, I'd play."

However, he can't walk until he can stand -- so as for getting to Minot, the question over whether they could go loomed in a cloud of uncertainty as the departure date kept approaching. Although his hip had healed two months prior to the planned journey, the same could not be said for his ankle, and that left the Engens wondering if they'd be held back.

"I'm thinking about how important that part of her life is -- the music and all that, how it got messed up because of this stupid accident," Mark Engen said.

With just three weeks left, their last hope was a bone graft. That involves taking bone from his good hip -- but if it doesn't work, they'll face a worst-case scenario.

"If it doesn't [take], they may have to remove the leg 'cause he can't really go on like this," Jeanine Engen said.

It's as though the crash, now 8 months in the past, is still chipping away at him and his way of life.

"Usually, we volunteer," he said. "I don't believe there's much volunteer in me this year. Not much a guy in a wheelchair can do."

His family hides the bills from him -- with total costs in the millions. Mark Engen's daughter has been fighting with their insurance company along the way. Jeanine Engen says just one of the bills Blue Cross Blue Shield is denying for coverage costs $35,000.

Yet, even with all of that on their minds, the Engen family still stops and thinks of the young man who caused it all -- and his mother.

"She lost everybody," Jeanine Engen lamented.

Not only did the young men cause the crash that killed his father and the brother who was like a best friend, but he also took his own life four months after the crash.

"It was sad," Mark Engen said.

Although he had been through so much, the man of forgiveness had hoped for better.

"He could have been rehabilitated and had a good life," he said.

Two days prior to the final departure time, the Engens returned to the Minneapolis Hospital and got a clean bill of health that allowed them to hit the road. While Jeanine Engen may have to do most of the driving -- and getting in and out of the RV takes a bit longer -- the two made it to Minot.

Once the two are done making music in Minot, they'll head for Arizona -- but the road to recovery doesn't end there. More surgeries will come, along with rehab; however, the Engens say there is no avoiding the call of the road.

"Really good spirit," Engen said. "He says he knows he will walk again. He knows he'll walk again."

Mark Engen is one of many Minnesotans who have been injured in crashes involving alcohol. Last year, 2,600 people were hurt -- and the cost to families, insurance companies and government programs can reach into the billions. That doesn't even consider the physical or emotional toll those involved also endure to move forward.

The Engens say their insurance company recently paid the $35,000 bill, lifting a large financial burden from their shoulders; however, the medical bills are still coming and out-of-pocket expenses hit $25,000 and are still counting.

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