A South Dakota motorcyclist critically injured in an Easter Sunday crash is calling his recovery part miraculous and part stubbornness.
21-year-old Bryan Hjelmen was driving to his parents' house for Easter dinner when he lost control west of Garretson and was thrown from his motorcycle. He suffered seven broken bones and severe brain trauma. Hjelmen is now home from the hospital and is planning to ride again.
Hjelmen's road to recovery includes restoring both his own battered body and the motorcycle he wrecked on that fateful Easter Sunday.
"Most likely something jumped out and I most likely swerved to miss it and also hit loose gravel at the same time," Hjelmen said.
There's not a lot left of the helmet that likely saved Hjelmen's life.
"A little bit of blood on the outside of it and the front piece, it's a full-front helmet, it's cracked all the way through and skid marks," Hjelmen said.
Hjelmen doesn't remember anything about the crash. He would learn about it weeks later while recovering in the hospital.
"The bike slid 270 feet and I slid 240 feet. But the bike almost scored a touchdown, so that's the bright side of things," Hjelmen said.
Hjelmen's own good-natured bright side is sometimes overshadowed by dark moods brought on by his brain injury.
"It's pretty much just trying to realize when I'm doing things differently and getting more back to normal. Get irritated a little easier right now. It's gotten better, but still got a little bit more to go," Hjelmen said.
To Hjelmen, surviving the crash was never in doubt.
"I know I was going to be, because I'm too stubborn to die," Hjelmen said.
Playing card games helps to further sharpen Hjelmen's mind. He credits his recovery to support from family and friends.
"A lot of people prayed for me but just having them think about me, I feel like that helped," Hjelmen said.
"It's a miracle. From the first time I seen him laying there in the hospital to today, it's just fantastic," Bryan's mother Renee Hjelmen said.
Each trip to and from the doctor's office takes Hjelmen through the scene of the crash. But even after seeing the site close-up, it still doesn't jog his memory.
"There's nothing I can do to change it. It's not like I can go back in time," Hjelmen said.
Hjelmen's health and motor skills have improved enough for him to start driving a car.
"Just to be able to see him get in a car and drive I was like, 'Yes!' I'm happy for him," Renee Hjelmen said.
Hjelmen's next goal is to ride his motorcycle again.
"I'm going with him. I'm going to drive, too. I'm going to be right next to him with the other one. It's freedom; it's in our blood," Renee Hjelmen said.
Despite the crash that nearly took his life, Hjelmen isn't hesitant at all about riding again. The lure of the open road could be just the physical therapy that leads Hjelmen toward a full recovery.
"It just proves more that you don't know what's going to happen the next day. Why not have as much fun as you can," Hjelmen said.
Hjelmen hopes to get the doctor's okay to return to his job at Sioux Falls Kitchen and Bath sometime this fall. He'd likely start with half-days before going full-time.
Not being able to earn a paycheck since the crash has been a financial hardship for Hjelmen. You can help by making a donation to the Bryan Hjelmen Benefit Account at any Wells Fargo bank.