Rally for recovery

The family is holding a spaghetti dinner and silent auction benefit Friday at the Moose Lodge in Maplewood to help pay for Gina Hosch's medical care. Cost is $25 per person, or checks can be sent to Tim Valento FBO Gina Hosch, 2880 Middle Street,...

The family is holding a spaghetti dinner and silent auction benefit Friday at the Moose Lodge in Maplewood to help pay for Gina Hosch's medical care. Cost is $25 per person, or checks can be sent to Tim Valento FBO Gina Hosch, 2880 Middle Street, #203, Little Canada, MN. Call (651) 792-5111 for more information.

There are times, Jim Hosch said, that he can have conversations with his wife. She talks about their wedding seven years ago, the house they built together in Duluth. They tease each other and play with their two kids. It's achingly close to what was and perhaps what could be.

But then there are times when the clarity breaks and Gina Hosch asks where she is. Jim will tell her, but five minutes later, he said, it's "where am I?"

"Five minutes later," Jim said, "she's asking continuously."



The morning of Thursday, Jan. 28, 2005, was hazy but clear throughout Duluth, except for a five-minute stretch when a patch of fog rose over the Bong Bridge, triggering a car crash involving 16 cars.

"It was fog like I've never seen before," State Trooper Scott Blais said. "It was eerie darkness. There was nothing but taillights."

One of the injured was Gina Hosch. The then-35-year-old dropped off her two children, 3-year-old Jennifer and 18-month-old Eric, at child care before heading over to Superior's Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, where she was a computer instructor.

When Dan Krueger saw her, he thought she was dead. Krueger, captain of one of the first Duluth firefighting teams to arrive on the bridge, said it didn't seem possible anyone could survive inside a car smashed between two semis.

"This was probably the worst car accident I've seen as far as damage to the vehicle," Krueger said.

Krueger couldn't feel Hosch's pulse, so he moved on. A few minutes later, as Krueger walked back toward Hosch's car, a member of his crew saw a thin stream of breath rise from Hosch's mouth in the winter morning. Krueger called a paramedic over, who found a faint pulse.

About a half-hour after the car was removed piece by piece from Hosch's body, she was in an emergency room in critical condition with broken bones and a brain injury.



For the past two and a half years, the family's life has been all about Hosch's recovery -- and setbacks. They would travel from Duluth to a hospital in Minneapolis, to a rehabilitation hospital in St. Paul, to a nursing home in Maplewood and then to a rehabilitation center in Golden Valley, then to an adult foster care home for people with traumatic brain injuries near Duluth in December 2005.

It was there the family said Hosch was left unstrapped in a wheelchair. She fell out, breaking her hip.

Hosch got a hip replacement, but a few months later suffered another setback. In June 2006, her insurance company determined that shewasn't improving enough to continue paying for therapy.

"What we've seen is that without therapy, she slides back," Jim Hosch said. "She just lays in bed or sits in a chair for 24 hours a day without any exercise."

At that point, the family turned to an alternative and controversial treatment, hyperbaric oxygen, which involves being put in a sealed chamber that increases regular atmospheric pressure. The idea, said Don Valento, Hosch's father, is that the increased oxygen will revitalize and revive cells in the body.

They took Hosch to a facility in Kansas City, Mo., and said they saw immediate results. Her pain decreased, while her strength and memory improved.

That prompted a second round of treatment, which Valento said didn't show as much improvement, but was still valuable. She was able to stand with the assistance of a machine for 30 minutes twice a day.

They planned a third trip, but a blood infection and a hip fracture delayed it. Another major surgery provided a temporary repair before a third surgery on May 8, when Hosch had another complete hip replacement.



"Gina," the physical therapist asks, "can you bend your knee up?"

She gives a slight nod. The knee moves, but it's a small lift, not a bend. The therapist slides her knee up under a cushion.

"How many do you want to do?" the therapist asks.

Her response is a whisper, almost inaudible to everyone but her dad, standing only a few feet from her mouth.

"Did she say 10?" the therapist asks.

"She said a hundred," her dad says.

About 20 lifts later, her dad asks if she wants to quit, but she shakes her head. She stops around 40, looking exhausted.


The goal of her weekly sessions is to get her to close to where she was before the hip accident and then again before the blood infection: walking.

After the session, two staff members strain to lift Hosch's limp body into her wheelchair. She moves by kicking her feet up, slowly inching down a hallway of St. Eligius Health Center in Duluth, where she is the youngest resident.

Her father is tender and patient, combining his words and tone with a forcefulness and enthusiasm that echoes his days as a Marine. He follows alongside his daughter, punctuating nearly every kick with a "that's it," "there you go" or "you're doing good."

Her mother, Jan, walks in front of them with a washcloth, wiping drool away from Hosch's mouth. The Valentos say "the dripping" can come and go and has been worse lately because of the medications.

A staff member walks up the hallway and sees them.

"Look at Gina go!" she says to Hosch, before correcting herself. "Look at you go, Gina!"

There are days, Jim Hosch said, when her memory is sharp. He said she has a clear understanding of what's going on around her and can have conversations with "almost 90 percent of her normal voice." But then there are other days where she can barely be understood at all and often repeats herself.

"Will you will help me walk?" Hosch suddenly asks her dad after remaining quiet for several minutes. Her words run together, almost a moan.


"What do you think?" her dad says. "The other day you asked if I would you help you walk, and you know what I said? I said yes. And you know why? Because if I needed you to help me, you would be there."

After her father tries to keep Hosch from drifting her head to the side, he brings out a notecard he keeps with a list of the sentences he's heard Hosch say. His favorite, heard over a week ago:

"She asked, 'Are you going to let me see what I can do?' And I said, 'Gina, what do you think you can do?' And she said, 'I think I can do a lot.' I think that was probably our top discussion."

Her parents have basically given up their retirement lives of travel and have become snowbirds for Hosch. They live in Florida except during the summer, when they stay in a condo near the Twin Cities and come up during the weekdays, sleeping in a van at night and staying in the nursing home during the day to help take care of their daughter, the youngest of seven children.

Her parents said Hosch was always athletic and outgoing, the captain of her high-school soccer team, president of the high school class, who went to college at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Penn., on a soccer scholarship and graduated with a degree in business. She later got a graduate degree in technical education and her parents said she was able to squirrel away almost $300,000 before getting married.

That's gone to pay for medical care.

Jim Hosch, a Wisconsin DNR officer, said his wife's insurance policy has a cap of about $1 million, which has almost been reached. The family is throwing a benefit this Friday to raise money to continue paying for her care and continued hyperbaric oxygen treatments, which can run about $10,000 a session.

"She's the mother of my kids," Jim Hosch said, fighting tears. "You can't hug money. I will do what I can for my wife. I realize she may never come back to me and be the person she was. But I have to try."


Jim Hosch filed a lawsuit last year against some of the truck drivers involved in the crash and their employers, claiming their negligence was responsible for Gina's injury. Since then, people involved in the crash have filed other lawsuits, including some against other drivers, Gina and "an act of God," according to court records.

Jim Hosch won't talk about the lawsuit for fear of jeopardizing it, but said he hopes to have it settled by the end of summer. Otherwise, Hosch said, he'll probably have to sell his house.

It's been a difficult adjustment for the children, he said. Jennifer and Eric, now 6 and 4, often visit their mother only on weekends. When they do, Jim Hosch said, they kiss their mom. Sometimes Jennifer will tell her mom about school or try to read to her or talk to her. But Jim Hosch said there's often little interaction and the kids end up playing in the corner of her room.

For now, insurance will continue to pay for her therapy, but it's only week by week. If she doesn't show improvement, she'll be forced to go back to a traumatic brain injury home.

The family continues to hold out optimism that she'll be able to recover.

"I think we're blessed that she's gone this far," Valento said. "My hope, and I think we can accomplish this, is for Gina to be able to go home and be a mom again. I think we're going to make that."

BRANDON STAHL covers health. He can be reached at (218) 720-4154 or by e-mail at .

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