Elias Hegdal has never been afraid of hard work, his family says.
The College Place man is known for his devotion to quality at Weston-based Charley’s Cabinets, where Hegdal has partnered with father-in-law Charlie Buckles for a decade, said Elias’ sister-in-law, Livia Hegdal, on Wednesday.
“He loves what he does.”
But as hard as he works, he plays, she said. “He’s a practical joker. He always has great jokes.”
His family would give anything to hear one of Elias’ jokes right now.
Elias, 30, has been in a coma at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane after a deer crashed through his windshield on Highway 11 last week. MRI results show his brain stem has been severely damaged.
Hegdal was headed south on Highway 11, pulling a small trailer, Livia Hegdal said. Her brother-in-law and his wife, Jenny, just bought a home in Athena and are in the process of moving from College Place. “It’s a little, old house they’ve been renovating. He rebuilt the kitchen for Jenny’s birthday.”
Jenny Hegdal has taught art at Central Middle School in Milton-Freewater for about five years.
Elias, as a surprise for his bride of 10 years, was headed to the new home with their refrigerator, trying to speed up the move-in process for her and their 2-year-old daughter, Alexandria.
At just after 6 p.m. on Nov. 7, he was about four miles south of Milton-Freewater in the cabinet company’s three-quarter-ton 2000 Dodge truck when Elias struck a deer in the road, according to law enforcement reports. The force of the collision decapitated the doe and the animal’s head came through the windshield of the pickup. “It crushed the windshield and hit Elias in the head at full force,” Livia said.
He was taken to Providence St. Mary Medical Center, Walla Walla, then flown to Sacred Heart Medical Center within the hour, she added.
On Nov. 8, he showed some signs of awareness and on Friday, Elias seemed to be trying to wake up, the family reported.
But results of an MRI scan have not been good. A neurologist has cautioned the family against hope of recovery — the damage to Elias’ brain is greater than anticipated, his brain stem severely damaged.
“Elias will never be back to what Elias was,” Livia said, echoing what the Hegdals have heard from physicians. “He will be in long-term care. He might be able to move his eyes and maybe his hands.”
It has been recommended Elias be moved to a trauma center in Northern Idaho, she added.
The family, however, is not buying the official prognosis, said Elias’ mother, Gwen. “I think God’s greater than that. I just feel like God is going to do a work here … I don’t know what it is or how far it will go, so far (God) hasn’t said, ‘No.’”
Elias is one of four brothers, including Luke Hegdal, a reporter at the Union-Bulletin and former reporter at the Hermiston Herald.
In an entry on the Caring Bridge online journal website, Elias’ brother Owen posted the most recent news — and best so far — on Wednesday evening:
“Elias had the rest of his lung tubes taken out today. He also seems more awake. He’s been chewing the tubes in his mouth and clenching his teeth when the nurses try to get into his mouth, he does not like it. When we worked his legs he fought back slightly, he opened his left eye and blinked it, and we think he was trying to swallow. He might be moved to NIACH, an advanced care place, by this week. A minister from Spokane and another man from Life Church came by and prayed for him, which we are so thankful for. We are very joyful with his progress, God is so good. Also, Jenny has been exhausted, so lots of prayers for them both.”
While Elias battles for his life, friends of the family continue what he started, said Central schoolteacher Kati Funderburk. “We are cleaning out their old house and moving everything to the new house, getting it all ready for them to come home.” Staff has donated $500 so far and is planning a number of fundraisers to help the Hegdals.
A benefit account has been established at US Bank for Elias and Jenny Hegdal. Donations can be made at any branch. Blue Mountain Stove Service in Milton-Freewater is challenging local businesses to match its $100 donation to the account. “This could have happened to any of us,” said owner Sharrie Copeland.
A community event is scheduled for Dec. 1, paying honor to Jenny’s love of salsa dancing, Funderburk said.
“Eddie Manazanares and possibly the whole band, Café Blanco, will be performing salsa music.”
The dance-concert combo will be at the Milton-Freewater Community Building, 109 N.E. Fifth St., 7-10 p.m. It’s family-friendly and all proceeds and freewill donations will benefit the Hegdal family, she added. Tickets are $5 per person and $10 per family.
For more information call Funderburk at 541-310-1254 or Kolleen Bennett at 541-310-7371.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.