By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
More than 15 years after a life-changing accident, Matt Klein continues to inspire and bless his family and friends with his faith and joy.
“It’s not like he never gets frustrated or mad,” said Matt’s mom, Irene. “But he’s always got joy in his heart.”
Matt was just two miles from home near Richmond Nov. 6, 1997, when he crested the hill of a newly-blacktopped road. His right front tire slipped over the edge of the road, which didn’t yet have a new shoulder. When he turned the wheel, the vehicle overcorrected and went into the opposite ditch.
Matt was not wearing a seatbelt and sustained a traumatic brain injury when the truck flipped.
“It was touch-and-go for the first couple of weeks,” Irene said.
“He had no broken bones and there was hardly a scratch on him,” said Matt’s dad, Mark.
Irene spent four months at Matt’s bedside in the Twin Cities, while Mark remained at home with Matt’s two younger siblings.
“It was one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time,” said Irene.
“You just do what you have to do,” Mark said.
Matt remained in a deep coma until spring 1998. His parents were determined to bring him back home, and after a sustained effort settled him in at the Cold Spring Nursing Home.
Matt’s friends from Rocori High School, who had visited him in the Twin Cities in the weeks following the accident, continued to see him almost every day.
While he was still in a coma, a healing service was held in the Klein’s yard in May 1998, conducted by Father Torberg from Richmond.
“About 100 people came with a day’s notice,” Irene said. “We called a few people and word got around.”
After Matt was fully out of the coma, the Kleins opened up their basement on Monday nights.
“We took Matt down and kids would just flow in and visit with him all night,” Irene said.
Friends, coworkers of Mark and Irene and community members put on a fundraiser for Matt that collected nearly $20,000.
“Their support was unbelievable,” Mark said. “We were able to get a handicapped van.”
In January 2000, Matt went to Courage Center in Golden Valley, spending nearly two years in the rehabilitation program there.
“His break with home was pretty rough on us,” Mark said.
The Kleins intended that when Matt was done at Courage Center, he would be ready to go directly to a residential home.
In December 2001, Matt moved into a residence for disabled men in St. Cloud that is part of the REM Minnesota network (named for founder Robert E. Miller). He still lives in that home with three other men, all of whom sustained a traumatic brain injury.
The doctors had given Matt about two to three years to regain use of his speech.
“With his facial expression and his eyes he could speak pretty well,” Mark said.
But one day nine years after the accident when Mark was visiting Matt in St. Cloud, Matt burst out with “one, two, three, four.”
“He was more shocked than I was,” said Mark, “and he was grinning from ear to ear.”
“He has so much faith — he still believes he’s going to walk,” Irene said.
“He has more determination and hope,” said Mark.
Matt uses a gait trainer walker, a piece of equipment that is armpit height, which he rests his arms on. He is strapped in and has good mobility with it.
The highlight of Matt’s year is the UFFDA deer hunt sponsored by the United Foundation for Disabled Archers which takes place at Boy Scout Camp Wilderness near Park Rapids. Matt has shot nine deer in the years he has participated.
Matt communicates with family and friends through e-mail, using his iPad. When asked if he wanted to make any comments for the Peach, he wrote, “I give thanks to my mom and dad, and respect.”
“I’m thankful for his faith; he’s blessed us with that,” said Irene. “He is so focused on what’s happening in church, so in tune with his faith.”
“I’m thankful for his personality,” Mark said. “He was the comedian of the family, and still is. But he also thinks of everyone pretty deeply.”