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Published January 03, 2014, 09:48 AM

Hurt in August train accident, Grand Forks city employee works to return to old life

Despite an on-the-job accident that was almost fatal last summer, Kyle Johnson is eager to return to his work of slaying Grand Forks mosquitoes.

By: Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald

Despite an on-the-job accident that was almost fatal last summer, Kyle Johnson is eager to return to his work of slaying Grand Forks mosquitoes.

“Mosquitoes are the enemy,” he said by telephone Thursday from the Courage Center in Golden Valley, Minn. “We’ve got too many of them in Grand Forks.”

People who share a similar regard for the biting insects have an opportunity to repay Johnson, who was severely injured Aug. 21 when the city’s mosquito-spraying vehicle he was driving was struck by a freight train.

A co-worker Jonathan A. Bartel was also seriously injured in the same accident but not as badly as Johnson.

A North Dakota Association for the Disabled-sponsored fundraiser for Johnson will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Jan. 25 at the Grand Forks County Office Building. The Kourage for Kyle event will feature a lunch and a silent auction in an effort to defray medical costs for the family.

‘A miracle’

The Courage Center has given the 28-year-old a tentative discharge date of Valentine’s Day, said his mother, Deb Johnson, of Grand Forks.

“From where we’ve come from, we’ll take it,” Deb Johnson said. “It’s a miracle that he’s doing as well as he is.”

Deb said her son was in a sedated coma at Altru Hospital for three weeks after the accident. “We weren’t sure then if he’d ever breathe on his own or walk on his own,” she said. “Statistically, he probably shouldn’t be still around.”

Kyle then spent 12 weeks at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul before being transferred to the Courage Center, where he daily receives two hours of physical therapy, one hour of occupational therapy and one hour of speech therapy. He struggles to walk without support and his speech is unclear, but his effort level is always high, his mother said.

Dedicated employee

Todd Hanson, the Grand Forks mosquito control supervisor and one of the organizers for the fundraiser, said Johnson was dedicated to his part-time work during his seven summers on the job.

“He is very dependable and very conscientious in everything he does,” Hanson said. “The mosquito control technicians are very close-knit, like a family. Being the long-term employee he has been, he also trains in the new employees.”

Although it’s doubtful that he will be able to return to the mosquito-control job this year, he will move in with his parents, Les and Deb, as he receives out-patient therapy

“People tell me it will be another year before I can go back to work, but I think it will be this summer,” Kyle said. “I really want to get back in the groove.”

His mother has a different priority.

“Kyle dream is to work again with his crew members, who have been extremely supportive,” Deb Johnson said. “My dream is when he gets back to a normal life.”

More On the Web: The Kourage for Kyle fundraiser’s Facebook page is at on.fb.me/1g4iNB5

How you can help

Items for donation can be mailed to Attn: Kyle Johnson Benefit, Grand Forks Public Health Department, 151 S. Fourth St., Suite N301, Grand Forks, ND 58201; or call Debbie Hanson-Misialek or Aly Barclay at (701) 787-8100 for items to be picked up.

If making a monetary donation, make checks payable to NDAD and write “Kyle Johnson” on the check’s memo line.

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