STAR, Idaho — On January 6th, 2023, life was forever changed for the Schmidt family of Star, Idaho. That is the night sisters Emily, 17, and Kayla,15, went out to grab dinner with friends. They hit a parked excavator head-on just down the street from the family's home. It was parked in the right lane in a construction zone, but the thick fog that night made it difficult to see.
It started out as a typical Friday evening for the girls' mom Holly Schmidt. She works the night shift at the St. Luke's Nampa emergency room as a nurse. She says she knew something was wrong when her husband, Jake, called her. She says he never calls her when she's on shift in the ER.
"I got the call from my husband," Holly Schmidt said. "He said you've got to come home now! He said the girls were in an accident and they can't get Kayla out of the car."
Kayla was in the passenger seat, and the car was trapped under the excavator. She was trapped too. Emily called her dad, he arrived on scene before first responders did. He knew Kayla was badly hurt.
"The first thing I asked is, is she moving, is she moving her arms, is she moving her legs? Is she awake," Holly said. "I just prayed, I literally put my head down and I prayed."
Kayla was extracted from the car by first responders, and rushed to St. Alphonsus Trauma Center. Holly made it to the hospital when the ambulance did. She asked to go in the ER with her daughter, since she was a nurse.
"That was both a blessing and a curse, because I knew how bad it was," Holly said through tears.
Kayla was in critical condition.
That night, word of the accident spread quickly through the small town of Star. The sisters go to Owyhee High School, and the people in this close knit community wanted to help however they could. One of the first people notified of the accident, was Star Mayor Trevor Chadwick.
"When there's something that happens, everybody in this town comes together to help others out," Chadwick said.
Chadwick said plans were quickly made for a prayer vigil for Kayla.
"The accident happened Friday night and the vigil was on Sunday night, there were five to six hundred people there, and everyone was there to pray for Kayla and the Schmidt family. It was really touching and powerful," Chadwick said. "The community came together and they put Pray for Kayla bracelets together. There was a meal train, and it will feed the family all the way through February, that's incredible for all those people to jump on board."
"I look at it and I can't believe it, it's so incredibly humbling," Holly Schmidt said. "It's also comforting, because we have no idea what expenses we have ahead of us. We just know they are going to be overwhelming."
Holly Schmidt has been keeping the community updated on Kayla's condition on social media, posting photos and videos from the hospital. In one of those videos Kayla talks about how she is feeling, and her attitude is nothing short of inspiring.
"I have my mind and my memories, and my voice, and I would be scared if I didn't have those things. If I never walk again, or I'm not able to move again, there are so many advancements in technology to help me," Kayla said in a Facebook video.
Kayla spent just over two weeks at St. Alphonsus, when her parents were told she needed to be moved to a hospital that specializes in spinal injury recovery.
"They did all they could for her, and she was ready to be transferred to a different level of care and in-patient rehab," Holly Schmidt said.
Kayla was transported by air to Craig H. Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. One of the best hospitals for spinal cord injury in the country.
"Her injury is just devastating," Holly said. "We didn't know how serious this was until we got to Utah to be honest."
Right now, Kayla is paralyzed from her shoulders down. She has some very limited movement in her arms and in one of her hands. The doctors, nurses and therapists are working with her 24/7 to regain strength and function.
"It's now that her journey begins with how much sensation and movement she can achieve with their therapies," Holly said. "This is really hard on her, I wouldn't wish this on anyone."
The accident has taken a toll on the whole family. Kayla is one of four kids, and they are here in Idaho, while parents Holly and Jake take turns going to Utah to be with Kayla. Holly comes back to Idaho each week to work several overnight shifts at St. Luke's, she carries the family's health insurance.
"Jake and I pass each other each week, we have to," Holly said. "But, we are so grateful that we are able to commute to Utah and back."
Sister Emily, who was also hurt in the accident but is mostly recovered, visits as often as she can to lift Kayla's spirits. She's devastated, and still processing what happened that night. It's a lot to bear for a 17-year-old girl.
"They are so close and I am just as concerned for Emily as I am for Kayla," Holly said. "One of my children walked away from that accident, I'm on high alert with her because a lot goes with that, she's got a lot to deal with."
Kayla also gets visits from big brother, Alex, and little brother, 8-year-old Noah. It's been hard for Noah to see his sister in the hospital.
"He's very protective of her," Holly told KTVB. "He wants to be right there with her and hold her hand. He would crawl into her bed with her if he could."
Each day, Kayla is working so hard to regain more movement. It's grueling. When she feels defeated, her mom is there to pick her up.
"I'll square myself off in front of her wheelchair and she won't want to look at me, and I'll say Kayla we are just going to do this minute by minute today and when you want to quit, I'll be here to help you go forward," Holly said with tears in her eyes. "I say Kayla, this is really, really hard, and mommy wishes she could switch with you, mommy would do anything to fix you. Your mommy and daddy are going to do everything to give you the best life."
What is carrying this family through, is their strong Christian faith, and the amazing support from the Star community. The bracelets, car decals, sweatshirts, there are even rocks painted just for Kayla. There are so many signs of support in this small town. Even though Kayla is in Utah, she feels it all.
"I read her every card, every message, every text," Holly said. "They had a basketball game at Owyhee High School, and they all wore pink for Kayla and she couldn't believe it, it was so special."
Mayor Chadwick said when Kayla is ready, the community of Star will welcome her home with open arms.
"Until then, it's important that we continue to pray for the family and lift them in spirits," Chadwick said.
The Schmidt family is so grateful for everything that the community has done for them.
"It's truly overwhelming, comforting, and so incredible to see," Holly said. "It makes me feel like Kayla is going to be embraced when we do bring her home. We have a long road ahead, but she will be coming home."
Right now, there is no time frame for when that will happen. But, just a few days ago, Kayla started recording a video blog of her experiences at the hospital. There are good days, and there are hard days. She loves getting mail to lift her spirits. You can send her a card or a note, or even a care package.
CRAIG H. NEILSON HOSPITAL
85 N. MEDICAL DRIVE
SALT LAKE CITY, UT
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