BILLINGS, Mont. — The Vangsnes family of Spartanburg, S.C., and the Minear family of Marietta, Ga., cling to their strong Christian faith as they continue to pray for their sons’ recovery from serious injuries in an SUV rollover accident on Interstate 90 near Belgrade, Mont. on July 21.
One month following the wreck, 21-year-old Jeremy Vangsnes is still the most critical of the four victims, who included two other Vangsnes brothers and Scott Minear. Jeremy has since been moved from St. Vincent’s Hospital in Billings to a nearby acute, long-term care center.
The young men were four of 17 “Innovator” resort missionaries with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) who had been on assignment at Yellowstone National Park since the Memorial Day weekend. Their stint was slated to end in early August. The accident occurred during an eight-hour side trip to Glacier Park.
“Jeremy will open his eyes and can hear us,” said his dad, Mark Vangsnes, who -– along with wife Kathy — left their home in Spartanburg to spend the last month in Billings with their severely injured son. Jeremy’s coma is not as deep as when first injured, and his eye movement is slowly improving.
“I read some Scripture to him (Aug. 19) and he opened his eyes half-way,” Vangsnes said. Mark and Kathy hope to fly their son back to South Carolina aboard a special medical jet soon once they’ve finalized plans with an acute long-term facility in Spartanburg. Jeremy is now off a ventilator and breathing on his own.
“Jeremy has a long way to go but he continues to endure and push on,” Mark said. For the first time in a month, Jeremy is scheduled to “sit up” sometime this week and be wheeled out of his room.
His steps in healing will be small and slow and “we’ll take every one we get,” his dad said. “He’s got so many positives going for him. He’s young, an athlete and all his vital signs are good.” Jeremy was a competitive long-distance runner at Coastal Carolina University prior to the accident.
Vangsnes said in the last conversation he had with his middle son, Jeremy told him how he and NAMB resort missionary Brad Lartigue completed an eight-hour, 115-mile bike ride across 8,000-foot passes through Yellowstone National Park in Montana.
“He was so proud, saying, ‘Dad, you won’t believe what Brad and I did.’”
The elder Vangsnes said support from Southern Baptists -– from their home church, First Baptist Spartanburg, to Baptists in Montana — has been “unreal. Right now, we’re staying with a local family only five minutes from Jeremy’s facility. The Baptist body of Christ has just overwhelmed us.
“Kathy and I are doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” he said. “We go to bed at night and go to sleep immediately. We wake up early in the morning, raring to go and face another day. Sure, we have our down days but, overall, we’re doing well. We believe that God is upholding and sustaining us, and the prayer going up for us is amazing.”
Jeremy’s 24-year-old brother Dan remains in the Bozeman Deaconess Hospital in Bozeman, Mont., where he is recuperating from severe knee injuries that will likely require surgery. Unlike Jeremy, Dan faced no life-threatening spine or brain injuries in the accident. Nineteen year-old Ryan, the third Vangsnes son in the accident, suffered only cuts and bruises and is back in Spartanburg.
Scott Minear, 20, a University of Georgia junior, was the driver of the SUV and suffered a fractured skull and a broken C5 vertebra in his neck. He recently was moved to St. Vincent Hospital’s New Hope Rehabilitation Center in Billings. He continues to wear a “halo” to stabilize his broken neck, but his mother, Tammy, reports that all other tubes, IVs and wires have been pulled.
“The results of X-rays this week weren’t as good as we hoped, so Scott will probably have to have some neck surgery. He’ll have to wear the halo until the surgery stabilizes his neck,” she said.
Alert and talkative, Scott gets on his computer every night to communicate with friends back in Athens, Ga.
“Through Skype, Scott’s worshipping with the UGA Baptist Campus Ministry every Tuesday night,” Tammy Minear said. In a surprise visit, several of his friends drove or flew to Billings to see him right after the accident.
“To even begin to describe the body of Christ at work during this is impossible,” she said. “We’re awestruck. How quickly so many people from so many different avenues — the Southern Baptist Convention, NAMB, local churches — responded. Churches here are ministering to us with their presence, with food, drinks, places to stay.
“All the prayers have been so felt…. (W)e have been constantly aware of people praying for us. We feel like we’re wrapped up not only in God’s arms, but in the arms of people around the world, who are praying for us.”
Calling Scott a “remarkable” young man, his mother said she could not be prouder of him. “I’m thrilled that in the insanity of these circumstances, his faith is strong. He continues to trust the Lord for the future. Nothing can do a mom’s heart more good than to see her child respond like that.”
But Tammy admitted that Schott, like Jeremy Vangsnes, has a long road to total recovery.
“Every move of every muscle is still a huge effort. But they tell us that’s normal and it takes time to build those muscles back up. He still has some paralysis on his left side. But he is moving and walking with the support of someone on both sides. The big thing is his left hand. He plays the guitar and wants to be able to play again. We’re praying that God will restore it.”
Scott’s father, Frank Minear, recently returned to their home in Marietta, Ga., near Atlanta, to take care of Scott’s sister, Shelbie, 17, and Colby, 12, who recently began the new school year. The Minears are members of Crosspointe Community Church, an SBC congregation in Roswell, Ga.
A special fund for the Vangsnes and Minear families has been set up by the North American Mission Board. The NAMB fund can be accessed through its web site, www.namb.net, and then click on “Give Now.” Gifts should be made by selecting the “Emergency Missionary Care Fund.”
First Baptist-Spartanburg also has established a special fund for the Vangsnes family. Checks may be mailed to the church, 250 East Main St., Spartanburg, S.C. 29306. The church’s phone number is (864) 583-7245.