By Frank J. Buchman
The bride-to-be walked down the aisle at her father’s side.
Sounds quite common on the forefront, but actually it’s a “miracle,” most would readily admit.
In a simple, less than 15-minute ceremony, Stephanie Smith became Mrs. Kevin Bachert.
Again not unusual, a maid becomes a bride. Except that nine months ago Stephanie was in a coma, and her family was told she might not live, and would never walk.
When Stephanie Smith fell five stories from a Kansas City balcony in July, she suffered a broken back, broken arms, legs, ribs, collapsed lung, being in a coma for 12-days.
A professional electrician, Stephanie doesn’t know why she fell, possibly because she had climbed the balcony rail for a closer at the “Super Moon.” She was found at 4 a.m., in the hotel parking lot.
No one knows why Stephanie fell, but the reason has little to do what was ahead, and has materialized.
After four months of in-patient therapy at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, Stephanie could wiggle a little toe. It’s more than doctors thought she would ever be able to do.
Kevin Bachert, also an electrician, didn’t work during her four months in the hospital, choosing instead to stay with his fiancé for emotional and practical support.
Then, Stephanie returned to the home shared with Bachert in the rural community of Reading in northern Lyon County.
Even with good insurance, the medical bills were astronomical and continued to grow. Stephanie still needed outpatient therapy and at least one more surgery.
Living life from three feet off the ground was a strange adjustment for Stephanie. It was difficult to reach things in the lower kitchen cupboards, and the hallways of her home seemed narrower when she rolled through in her new wheelchair.
Every routine task was one more thing Stephanie had to relearn as a paraplegic. “I’ve accepted that there’s certain realities that kind of stink. I’ll adapt,” Stephanie said.
And, she did with assistance and support from Kevin, her mom and dad Lynn and Steve Smith, brother and sister-in-law Sherman and Jessica Smith, and uncountable friends and new acquaintances across the country, which she became acquainted with through various sources in the past few months.
Stephanie spent time in the hospital learning how to cook with nerve problems that desensitize her to pain. She learned how to do a fall recovery, since getting up on her own was a challenge.
“Nobody knows. Nobody can predict if and how far they can take this. I’ll never walk normally again, but potentially I could go short distances. Two, three years from now, maybe I can reach a cupboard,” Stephanie said, then.
Community and family support made all the difference to Stephanie. She received an anonymous care package filled with beef jerky, gummy bears and “girly things, ” which helped her through physical therapy. Supporters sent cards and well wishes which helped motivate her recovery.
“It made me feel like the luckiest person in the world, even that people could make it so positive,” Stephanie said. “It made me feel good that so many people loved me.”
Her mother, Lynn Smith, found Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln and set up Stephanie’s Facebook page, which brought publicity and financial assistance.
“Stephanie didn’t like to ask for help,” Mom Lynn said. “I don’t like to ask for help either, but I would readily ask for it for my daughter.”
As she recovered, Stephanie relied on neighbors for regular wellness checks, just in case she fell and couldn’t get up or had another emergency.
Co-workers from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers raised money to build a ramp to Smith’s front door and built it themselves. Once, a friend came over and offered to clean, which the offer in itself meant a lot to Stephanie.
“Kevin returned to work, and Stephanie learned how to deal with everyday life from a wheel chair. Simple tasks now take hours to complete. Therapy has continued in Emporia, thanks to a team of friends and family who take turns transporting her,” Mom Lynn said.
While Stephanie is classified as a paraplegic, she feels fortunate to have movement in her right leg. Part of her therapy has been learning how to communicate a command to move a limb that has limited feeling, and how to control that movement.
Her left leg is considerably less cooperative, and her left foot required an additional surgery in February of this year.
When they set a date to be married, there was only four weeks to plan, but Stephanie and Kevin wanted a simple ceremony.
The day of the wedding arrived, along with beautiful spring weather. “Everything was perfect, a day to celebrate new beginnings. Friends decorated the Reading Community Building, designed flowers, and took photos to commemorate the day,” Mom credited.
A single-horse drawn fringed-top carriage was appropriately appareled in light blue and turquoise wedding colors as tear-starred, blue-eyed Stephanie in her matching blue wedding dress wheeled herself down her home ramp to be assisted into the antique cushion for the ride with her dad.
Stephanie proudly proclaimed, “I’m getting married today,” as she waved to her neighbors on their front porch.
Less than four blocks to the wedding hall, within short distance of arrival, the bride-to-be cautiously, yet anxiously announced to her dad: “I’m walking down the aisle myself you know. I had to wait until now to tell you, because Mom can’t keep a secret.”
Dad Steve nodded smiling, “I suspected that. I’ll be walking beside you.”
Nearly 50 guests were already at the nearly-new brick Reading Community Building when the bride-to-be and her father arrived. Several guests had driven considerable distance, and Kevin’s folks flew in from Michigan.
Kevin and the best man took their places. In came the bridesmaid, pushing an empty wheelchair. The guests stood to greet the bride and were in awe to find Stephanie walking down the aisle, escorted by her father.
Stephanie stopped several times, but would say: “I can make it.”
She stood tall (all 5-feet-one-inch of her) for the entire, albeit brief, ceremony.
There were times Stephanie seemed to shake a bit from the effort, but she didn’t sit down in her awaiting wheelchair until after: “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
Mom Lynn insisted, “Stephanie’s strong. She’s strong-willed, which has really helped her through this.”
Stephanie has incredible upper-body strength that helps her “swing like a monkey,” and she continues working hard to get stronger.
“The joke is now I’m the million-dollar baby,” Stephanie said. “We’re hanging in there, but that’s an ongoing issue. I’m looking at thousands of medical bills staring me in the face.
“Everybody has been so strong, so supportive,” Stephanie appreciated. “There’s no way we could do this alone.”
An electrician before her fall, that work involves climbing, which isn’t realistic for her future. But, Stephanie will find another meaningful career.
“I refuse to take no for an answer,” Stephanie said. “I still have the knowledge in my head. I have options to pursue.”
“Stephanie works relentlessly to strengthen her right leg to the point it can work for both legs, and her hard work was visible to everyone in attendance at the wedding,” Mom Lynn said.
It was truly a most emotional time for all of those there.
“I wish I had more pictures of Stephanie coming into the room, but when I realized she was walking…well my eyes filled with tears of joy and I had a hard time focusing the shot. I get choked up every time I think of her walking into the room with her father,” said photographer Brent Jones of Reading.
“Today was a very emotional day for everyone involved. My niece, Stephanie, who fell from a fifth floor balcony and was told she would never walk, walked down the aisle today to marry her love Kevin in a beautiful ceremony. Usually they say there isn’t a dry eye at a wedding, well today that statement was true,” her aunt Jill Dutton, wrote on her Facebook page.
Mary Bachert, Kevin’s mother, exclaimed: “I was amazed at the support of friends and community.”
Steve Smith said, “Kevin, our new son-in-law, stood by Stephanie’s side throughout this ordeal. It was his strength and support that made it possible for Stephanie to walk down the aisle, and we will always be grateful. We are very proud to have Kevin in the family.”
“When Stephanie was in a coma, we were told she might not live and would never walk. But, Stephanie, Kevin, and all of us had hope. Hope and determination are sometimes the best remedy.
“Stephanie will never walk normally again, and probably will only be able to stand briefly. She will not be able to return to her work as an electrician. The newlyweds face a life filled with more hard work, many challenges, and hope. It will be a life they build together that began with a single step,” Lynn Smith said.
“I am proud that Stephanie’s recovery, wedding and future is one of courage, strength, a positive outlook, and an incredible network of support from family and friends,” Lynn appreciated.
During the wedding reception, horse-drawn carriage rides were provided for all of the guests, and the climax came when Stephanie and Kevin boarded for their wedding ride.
Some certain kind of significance, too, as Reading was stricken by a fatal tornado just four years ago and has recovered itself to an alive, immaculate, almost-thriving country town, home to the most miraculous new bride and her most proud husband, the Mr. and Mrs. Kevin Bachert.