SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Kaelene and Joe Tappe did not think they would be spending their honeymoon stuck in the hospital, unable to return home.
The young couple married in early June and waited a month before traveling to Maui, Hawaii for their honeymoon. The first few days were filled with exploring the island, visiting a volcano and boogie boarding. In fact, the couple enjoyed boogie boarding so much they decided to do it again on the third day of their visit.
“So, when you’re boogie boarding, you kind of want to ride that top of the wave. But he was a little too close to the beach part. So, when it dipped down, he crashed right down to the shoreline and went headfirst,” Joe’s wife, Kaelene Tappe, explained.
The fall caused Joe to fracture his T5 and T6 vertebrae and nearly drown. A Maui local found Kaelene and informed her of what happened and suggested they call an ambulance.
“So, I ran over there. He was trying to sit up, but couldn’t,” Kaelene recalled. “But he was having such a hard time breathing because of the pain. And since he went headfirst, his side of his face was just like, really bloody and cut up from the ground. So, then, basically, he was definitely not himself, like really confused, couldn’t tell me like the day or where he was.”
Shortly after arriving at the hospital, Joe tested positive for COVID-19 which meant Kaelene was not able to visit him. Instead, they’ve relied on Facetimes and text messages to communicate when Joe isn’t resting.
Kaelene describes Joe as a family-oriented person who loves to spend time with her and their two-year-old daughter. Joe is a helicopter mechanic for the National Guard and had recently returned to Sioux Falls after being stationed in South Carolina and Virginia.
Kaelene said that Joe has been very hopeful throughout the whole journey, staying calm and positive despite everything that he has been through.
“That’s like, one thing I appreciate of him. Like, he’s definitely the opposite of how I’ve been reacting. He just keeps telling me that everything’s gonna be okay,” Kaelene said.
The first few days Joe was in the hospital were hard for Kaelene.
“Yes, definitely not how I planned my honeymoon to be. At first, it was very, like, I kind of was in shock, I didn’t really know, like, what happened or what was going on, and it just was like, I don’t know what to do,” Kaelene said.
After a few days, both Joe and Kaelene’s parents were able to fly out, bringing the couple’s two-year-old daughter with them.
“But since my mom and his parents got here, I’ve definitely felt a lot better. And felt way more at peace,” Kaelene said. “And the doctor saying everything looks good, that everything’s on the right track, I definitely feel way better now.”
“The doctor just says, with his age, that him having a full recovery is very, very possible, and very high chance of that happening,” Kaelene said.
The extent of Joe’s injuries are much better than doctors expected, but he’s still looking at least six months of recovery and future scans to ensure his body is healing.
On Wednesday, Joe was able to walk and his care team said it doesn’t appear that he’ll need to go to a rehab facility.
“It’s definitely a miracle that he is not paralyzed. The doctor was very shocked that he’s still okay,” Kaelene said.
Kaelene’s uncle, Daniel Brunz, set up a fundraiser for the young family to help them until Joe recovers. Currently, Kaelene is a full-time nursing student and is expected to graduate next spring. While Joe is recovering from his injuries he will be unable to work and their parents want to make sure Kaelene is able to finish her school instead of delaying her studies to support them both.
“It’s definitely will help with the travel expenses [and] medical bills. Like ambulances rides are not friendly,” Kaelene said.
If you’d like to donate to the Tappe’s GoFundMe you can do so, here.