When Kari Palashewski arrived at Hennepin County Medical Center last Aug. 21, it was to say goodbye to her 22-year-old daughter, who'd been fatally injured in a car crash. Hours later, Palashewski was saying a tearful and totally unexpected hello -- to a 1-pound, 12-ounce granddaughter born four months prematurely as her mother, Jamie Baer, lay in a coma at HCMC.

"Nobody knew Jamie was even pregnant," said Palashewski, the grief still evident in her voice. "I don't know if she even knew."

Her daughter died a few weeks later, never knowing she'd brought a new life into the world.

Nearly six months later, the 46-year-old Palashewski is the legal guardian of the baby girl.

She named her Angel.

Baer, a cosmetologist, was a passenger in a car that police said was speeding along Interstate 94 near Rogers before it struck an embankment. The car rolled, possibly more than a dozen times, trapping Baer in the vehicle, according to the State Patrol. The driver and another passenger survived, but Baer was critically injured.

"It didn't look good," Palashewski said. "She had a lot of injuries --head injuries, a broken neck. Her lungs were bad.

"I was in a state of shock the whole time," she said.

After she arrived at HCMC, "They handed me her license," and then some more stunning news: "They said they had to deliver a baby by emergency Caesarean."

Doctors had discovered the pregnancy, estimated at 25 weeks, when Baer was given an ultrasound to gauge her internal injuries.

As soon as the pregnancy was detected, doctors had the comatose woman prepared for an emergency Caesarean to save the baby. Angel was born at 1:12 a.m. on Aug. 22.

Although Angel beat the odds simply by surviving the accident, doctors said she had severe medical complications. After she was taken from her mother, she had no heartbeat. Several minutes of CPR by a nurse practitioner were required to get her heart started and keep it going.

"It was a miracle the way she survived," said Dr. Connie Adkisson of HCMC, who delivered the baby.

Kristin Sticha, the nurse practitioner, said "she came out and she was very sick. This was a very difficult start for her."

Palashewski said that even though the baby made it through the first day, the family was told to prepare for the worst -- they might have to decide whether to take the little girl off life support. So they brought in the family priest for advice and solace.

"He said the baby needed a name to go to heaven," Palashewski said. "That's how we came up with Angel."

The long road ahead

Although relief came as soon as it became clear the baby had a good chance of surviving, relatives said it has not been an easy road since.

The family does not know who Angel's father might be, so Kari and Todd Palashewski, the grandparents, have been named her legal guardians. The Palashewskis are eager to locate the father, because knowing Angel's genetic history could be important to her health.

"It's been an adventure" said Kari Palashewski, who took Angel home to their Zimmerman residence in November. "There's been tears just about every day. Our lives have been turned upside down. When you're not expecting a baby and overnight you have one, it's like 'Whoa.'"

The medical bills for Angel's more than three months in the hospital totaled more than $1.25 million, Kari Palashewski said. The bills the first year are being covered by state medical assistance. But the total is growing. Angel, who's grown to more than 6 pounds, still requires oxygen to breathe and the help of four nurses on a daily basis.

Kari Palashewski said Angel has suffered from hernias, bronchial troubles and problems with her retinas that will possibly require laser surgery in the near future.

To help meet the cost of raising and caring for a baby, friends of the family held a benefit for Angel in December in Corcoran, where the family used to live and where Jamie and her older sister Jessica grew up. "They were a big part of the community," said Shelly Nelson, a former neighbor.

More than 1,000 people showed up at St. Thomas church, raising thousands of dollars for the family.

"People wanted to help," said the Rev. Michael Rudolph, the pastor at St. Thomas. "They were touched by baby Angel and her mother."

'Remembrance ... '

Jamie Baer died from her injuries in September. She never recovered consciousness.

"It's so unfair," Palashewski said. "She's growing up without a mother. It's kind of like one of those things you'd expect to happen only in movies."

Almost everyone she knows, Kari Palashewski said, has tried to comfort her by telling her that, even though she's lost one daughter, she's gained another in Angel.

"Everybody says that it's bittersweet and you've got her to replace Jamie," Kari Palashewski said. "Well, nothing's going to replace Jamie.

"In fact, it took me a long time to walk into the nursery and look at her because she looks identical to Jamie. And you've got that remembrance. "

Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280