THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
An instant is all it takes to change a life.
It’s a saying John Ronneberg knows all too well.
A few minutes difference in either direction, and Ronneberg never would have been in that Minneapolis crosswalk at 6:52 p.m. Nov. 11.
If he had only stopped for a coffee or to tie his shoe, the driver who ran the light would have sailed through the intersection without a second thought.
But circumstances aligned to produce an altogether more tragic outcome — one where Ronneberg and his stepdaughter Cindy Zimmerman were struck at 30 mph and sent soaring. She tumbled over the top of the car, while Ronneberg hit the windshield, breaking it, and ricocheted into an adjacent ditch.
As he lay in the dirt, rain pelting his unconscious form, the scene took on a darker cast. Recovery seemed a far-off prospect when his mere survival was at stake. Ronneberg’s pelvis was shattered and the impact from the vehicle sent him into a coma with a brain injury.
“If I’d been a half a mile away from that scene, I wouldn’t have made it,” Ronneberg said.
But the bleak picture was made brighter when, two weeks later, he awoke from his coma and started asking for coffee. He was in and out of consciousness for nearly four weeks.
“That unconscious month played an important part in me not feeling any pain because Alan (Ronneberg) said he could look in the emergency room and he said he could see me,”Ronneberg said, clenching his fists, “(in) full pain, and it wasn’t registering at all.”
As he came to, Ronneberg assumed he was at the Mayo Clinic, where he’d been awaiting his wife Diane’s recovery from heart surgery. The reality was far from it: Ronneberg was 70 miles away, a patient in a brain unit of Bethesda Hospital.
“The 11th of November was the accident. I don’t remember the day before, the day of, or a month afterwards,” Ronneberg said. “The first recollection comes around the 10th of December, and I was in a brain injury hospital — Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul. At that point I was pretty well shot, and my mind wasn’t working hardly at all.”
From then on, Ronneberg dove headfirst into recovery, beginning with occupational and speech therapy. When one therapist asked him to draw a clock and write his name, the results were illegible — “nothing but scribbles,” he said. But in three weeks time, Ronneberg was able to execute the drawings.
To read the rest of the story, pick up the Feb. 11 edition of the Pioneer or subscribe to our e-edition. Current subscribers are provided complimentary access to the e-edition with registration.