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'I just want to be Amber again'

A 20-year-old Dalton, Minn., student is nearing the end of her recovery after suffering a severe brain injury in May when a drunk driver collided with her car.


A 20-year-old Dalton, Minn., student is nearing the end of her recovery after suffering a severe brain injury in May when a drunk driver collided with her car.

Amber Gravelle attends occupational and speech therapy twice a week to regain the skills she needs to return to Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Gravelle's family says it's unfair she had to spend 10 weeks of her life in a hospital and more time recovering, but they say they're lucky her injuries weren't worse.

"They (doctors) actually didn't expect her to live," said Gravelle's mother, Shawn Johansen. "She was in really, really tough shape.

"She is a miracle that she lived."


On May 15, the night of the crash, Gravelle ate at Applebee's in Fergus Falls with her boyfriend, Nate Skogen.

Gravelle had moved home two days earlier after finishing her freshman year at MSUM, where she is studying social work.

The 4.0 student said she was more relaxed with her first year of college behind her and looked forward to the summer.

She had a job lined up at a family friend's photography studio, and she was happy to be in the same area as Skogen, who had just graduated from college.

After eating out that night, the couple drove separate cars in the early morning hours of May 16 and headed to Skogen's home near Fergus Falls.

That's when Gravelle's summer plans came to a halt.

According to Otter Tail County court records, a vehicle headed south on County Road 1 crossed the center line and struck Gravelle's northbound car head on.

Skogen, who was driving ahead of Gravelle, told authorities the southbound car nearly struck him as well. At 12:25 a.m. May 16, the sheriff's department responded to the accident and extricated Gravelle from her Geo Prism.


Court records say the driver of the southbound car, Andrea Hydukovich, had a blood alcohol concentration of .19 percent at 2:24 a.m.

Hydukovich, 21, was treated and released for minor injuries.

She faces two felony charges of criminal vehicular operation resulting in great bodily harm. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Hydukovich, listed in court records as a Fargo resident, has been released on her own recognizance and will appear in Otter Tail County District Court on Oct. 11.

After the crash, Gravelle, who was wearing a seatbelt, was transported to MeritCare Hospital in Fargo, where she was in the intensive care unit for more than five weeks.

Because of a severe brain injury, doctors kept Gravelle in a coma to help her brain heal, said Dr. Paul Lindquist, who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Gravelle also suffered a dislocated hip, a fractured pelvic bone and a fractured elbow.

She will never be able to straighten her left elbow because she wasn't stable enough for surgery, Gravelle said.


Gravelle, released from the hospital July 30, has to wear an eye patch because the brain injury causes double vision.

"It (the double vision) might go away by itself, or it might need the 'S' word -- surgery," Gravelle said. "It's like a swear word."

Although doctors told Gravelle talking and walking would likely be the last things she'd regain, she accomplished those tasks first.

"That's just the kind of girl she is," Johansen said. "If she had homework that was really hard, she'd tackle the hard stuff first and get that out of the way."

Gravelle has completed her physical therapy and continues to go to occupational and speech therapy.

Therapy, which initially lasted three hours a day three times a week, was something Gravelle wasn't crazy about at first.

"I learned I can't be normal unless I do my therapy, I can't be Amber," she said. "I just want to be Amber again."

Gravelle will continue speech therapy the longest. The therapy helps with skills that were hindered because of the brain injury, including memory, her ability to concentrate and organizational skills, Lindquist said.

She plans to return to MSUM either this spring or next fall.

Gravelle's stepfather, Curt Johansen, said the accident has inspired him to get a message out that drunken driving needs to stop.

"We can pass as many drunk driving laws as we want, but it won't stop until we all decide it's not acceptable," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590

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