Every year Miles Weske and his fiancée Brook Weber make Thanksgiving dinner for family, and this year will be no different. Except Weber jokes that any help Weske can give this holiday will be considered rehabilitation.

“I told him he has to bake the turkey because he’ll have to get up every half-hour to baste it,” said Weber. “Stirring the mashed potatoes will be his occupational therapy for the day.”

Most of us will gather with family this week to celebrate the small graces and accomplishments. Weske will give thanks for the big one: his life.

So will his colleagues, Joshua Jones and Scott Scepaniak, all of whom survived a helicopter crash on Sept. 17 just outside Alexandria, Minn. Weske is a flight and ground paramedic, Jones is a pilot and flight nurse and Scepaniak is a nurse. They were on their way to pick up a patient when the aircraft suddenly went down. The cause of the crash has not yet been determined.

Weske suffered the most serious injuries, and for many days it appeared he would not survive. He was kept in an induced coma after breaking his vertebrae, ribs, sternum and femur. Weske’s lungs also collapsed.

Weber, who is also a flight nurse, has spent the past two months by her fiance’s bedside at North Memorial Medical Center, watching with a nurse’s cautious optimism that Weske would recover.

The couple had planned to be married at Jay Cooke State park just two weeks after the accident, but it had to be postponed. At one point, Weber discussed with family the possibility of conducting a marriage by proxy, in case Weske didn’t make it.

Weske woke up slowly, often confused and paranoid. They waited and hoped that it was the lingering effect of the heavy drugs, not a serious brain injury, that caused his scrambled mental condition.

It was.

“He’s sharp, and he’s got his personality back,” Weber said.

One of the first things he said when he began to regain lucidity was, “I missed our wedding.”

“I said, ‘That’s OK, at least you are alive,’ ” Weber said.

The couple now plan to get married in January at the Northern Pacific event center in Brainerd, and Weske plans to walk down the aisle “all braced up” as Weber says, with casts on his legs, arm and neck.

During Weske’s rehabilitation, Weber went shopping for her wedding dress and finally found something in Maple Grove.

Late this week, Weber was preparing to go back and get the house ready for Weske’s homecoming while he was getting a final neurological exam. One of their six children from previous marriages, Reese, played video games and ate Cheetos in a waiting room, happy to finally get to see her future stepfather in person.

“He hugged me,” Reese said.

The past three weeks, Weske has worked to clear his brain and his speech and he’s been up walking, with some help. “He’s as stubborn as all get out,” said Weber. “Holy moly.”

“He’s really excited” to go home, said Weber. “He’s a little anxious. He knows all the things that are wrong with him and can’t believe he can be going home after just two months. But he’s strong, and he’s ready to get back on his bike. We put it on a trainer, and he can ride it next to the fireplace all winter.”

He also plans to go bow hunting off the deck from his wheelchair. Like she said, stubborn.

It will be awhile before Weske can work, and he’s not sure if he’ll want to fly again. He also teaches medical students, and Weber thinks he could be a powerful motivator to them.

Weske has told Weber he has no problem with her returning to work, and to flying.

“That’s my job,” Weber said. “I love helping people. I don’t know how it will feel until I get up on my first flight. I’m not anxious.”

This week Weske will continue to work his way back to his old self with the help of some rubber bands, some weights, and a very large bowl of mashed potatoes.


jtevlin@startribune.com 612-673-1702

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