MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (KMSP) - Last year at this time, a Minneapolis man was in the hospital with major injuries to his body and face. His life was never going to be the same and he had every reason to be angry. But, instead he found the strength to make a right from a wrong.
When Fox 9 first met Elias Youngblom in his hospital room last spring every bone in his face was broken, his jaw was wired shut, he couldn't walk and he had compound fractures in both of his forearms. In addition, he suffered from a torn liver and bruised lungs. .
"I try to keep my head up, try to keep positive about it," said the 23-year old. "I know if I start getting negative and start pouting about it or dragging about it, it's just going to take longer to heal."
A year of positive thinking has passed. The aspiring music teacher is getting his groove back but it has taken countless hours of physical therapy and an iron will to get to this point.
He's back helping out in the band department at Maple Grove High School. "Getting back to my students for the first time was a huge, huge thing for me," he said.
"It's not surprising that he is back up and running, but I mean at the same time, that was a bad car crash," recalled Peter Buller, the music director at the high school.
Accident and consequences
March 16, 2015 Youngblom was heading home to the Twin Cities from college in Fargo, North Dakota.
Except for a few sprinkles, Interstate 94 was clear. Out of nowhere, it happened, a wrong way driver hit his Honda Civic.
A video from the Minnesota State Patrol recorded the aftermath: "We're going to need extraction for both of these vehicles," said a state trooper.
The head on collision, so powerful that Youngblom's car ricocheted across the highway, rolled over and came to a rest in a ditch 50 yards away.
First responders found him moaning in pain, barely alive.
State troopers smelled alcohol on the wrong way driver and she told them "I have a drinking problem."
A blood test revealed Jana Battern had more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in her system.
This was not her first DWI.
"I was really angry for a while until the first time I heard her speak in court," Youngblom said.
He added it's not in his DNA to stay mad at anyone, he'd much rather feel the healing power of forgiveness.
"If she can turn her life around and if she can do something good and get help and stay clean and change her life for the better, something good came out of something bad," he said.
Youngblom has never seen the person responsible for putting him through so much suffering. The crash made sure he never will.
“Being blind is not as bad as it seems. Everyone has to remember that it's not that bad, it's not ideal,” Youngblom said. "It's not the situation I wanted to be in, ever, but I'm here."
Instead of dwelling on losing his eyesight, he's pouring every ounce of his being into what he's gained this past year.
His mother's not surprised. "You can get used to a lot. I know things seem insurmountable, things seem impossible, but you know what, you just have to push ahead," said Tracy Turner.
Adapting to a new way of life
He's already mastered living on his own in downtown Minneapolis, as negotiates the city's busy streets to get to classes at Vision Loss Resources.
He's even comfortable around power tools. "These are the ones I've already sanded, these four," he said as he worked on a wooden book case for his apartment.
The crash was a huge setback for his career plans but he hasn't given up on his dream to finish his degree and get his teaching license. Learning braille will help him to read music again.
That's always been his goal to be a music teacher. But his approach to teaching has changed since the crash.
"I promise if I screw up the conducting, I'll just start dancing. Do your best to follow that," said Youngblom.
Students are amazed by his attention to detail. "We're playing in a group of 30 of us and he can hear the one person just slightly flat, slightly sharp," said one of them.
But he's teaching them so much more than music. "It's a long, windy, rocky path, but I'm still taking it," he said.
He plans on going back to college this summer and fall. He has a few more classes to take to get his degree. He hopes to speak about his journey at graduation.