Frazee man beating the odds after life-threatening accident 

By Barbie Porter


Lucas Shawstad recently celebrated his 20th birthday with the ability to talk, walk and dig back into his long-term memory to recall moments of years passed.

Those hallmarks may seem like small potatoes for most 20 year olds, but  Lucas shouldn’t be alive.

“Lucas has good days and bad,” his mom Karen Mitchell said. “He’s been able to attend therapies, so we take every bit of positivity and hold onto it.”

Contributed photo
Lucas Shawstad and his step dad Chad Mitchell take time from his rigorous rehabilitation to enjoy the sunshine and take a picture.

The Frazee resident has been by her son’s side since he was in a severe vehicle accident in Montana on Jan. 23. Lucas was returning from an open-road adventure to Washington. He sustained severe injuries, including skull fractures and damage to his spine.

After some healing happened in Montana, Lucas was airlifted to Denver, Colo. due to seizures. Karen remained by her son’s side on the flight. 

Since then, the two have been in the state with the  motto, “Nil Sine Numine.” The Latin phrase is commonly translated to “Nothing without God.” Karen, who has a strong Christian faith, says she has witnessed the power of prayer lift her son up, and she has seen miracles happen as her son heals.

Make no mistake though, the young man who  had 100 staples in his head, part of his skull removed, damage to his vertebrae and lost an eye, has a long road ahead. Lucas knows it, as does his mother. 

While Karen never had any intention of leaving his side during his recovery, when Lucas asked her to pinky swear that she would remain, she promised. 

To afford Karen the opportunity to remain at Lucas’ side without adding finances to the concerns they already have, consider donating to the family. One avenue to do that is by visiting and typing into the search bar: Help Karen stay by Lucas’s side during recovery.

Life trajectories 

change in an instant

Karen received a the call informing her that her son was in an accident. 

“I don’t remember all the details, but I believe that Lucas flew out the back window, and apparently, when the truck rolled, he was underneath.”

Karen Mitchell wrote in her Caring Bridge journal, which she gave the newspaper permission to use for the article.

She was told his injuries were severe, that oftentimes people with such injuries don’t survive.

“I believed we were driving to Billings, Mont. to sign organ donation papers and say goodbye to our boy,” Karen wrote.

But Lucas’ body found balance in the fragility of the tight rope he was walking. While in a medically induced coma, with apparatuses to help him breathe, his body began to heal.  

Karen, who is a nurse at Essentia Health in Detroit Lakes, remained by his side at the Billings Clinic Hospital. In those moments of reflection and fear, she  learned to “let God take the wheel, so that she can cry in the passenger seat.” Sometimes the tears were of sadness, when Lucas had rough days, and other tears were of joy, when improvements were noted. Through the peaks and valleys, Lucas’ family pressed on, unwavered by their faith in God’s plan.

Contributed photo
Lucas Shawstad’s pickup rolled in an accident that was so bad his mom was told it was unlikely her son would survive.

Before the calender flipped to February, Lucas woke up for short periods of time due to the doctors lowering medication doses. During one of those moments, his mom placed a finger in his hand and asked him to squeeze. He did. 

“I thought maybe it was a fluke, so I asked him to squeeze again, and he did,” she wrote. “Then, I said, ‘Lucas, can you squeeze my fingers just one more time?’ He squeezed as hard as he could.”

Two steps forward led to one scary step backward. As Lucas became more aware of his surroundings, and the breathing tube that was still in place, he started to cough and choke. His mom tore out of the room for help. 

“His BP sky rocketed to 260/198, heart rate was 120,” Karen said. “I was trying to hold his left hand down, while the nurse was suctioning him. In these moments of terror though, he moved both legs and left arm! Good thing he was restrained or I think he’d have been headed to the door.”

More medication was given to calm the young man. While the medications kept him sedated, signs of improvement began rapidly showing. By Feb. 5, the ventilator was fully removed. On that same day, he tried to get out of bed, using both his right and left side, and then he spoke.

“He started to scoot himself over that way (out of the bed),” Karen wrote. “I put my hand on his chest and said, ‘Lucas, you can’t get out of bed.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Why?’”  

Two days later Lucas opened his eye and really looked at his mother. She asked if he knew who she was. He said her name. 

“Who am I?” she asked.

“Mom,” he said.

“Oh honey, I love you,” Karen responded.

“I love you,” Lucas replied.

A few days after the miracle conversation, Lucas began having multiple strokes on his right side. He and his mother were airlifted to the Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colo.  There it was determined the strokes were results of the numerous fractures at the base of his skull.

“They likely irritated the artery and will take time to heal,” Karen reported.

By mid-February Lucas moved out of his room in the ICU to the multi-trauma unit. Karen said, by then it was apparent that his long-term memory was sharp, but his short-term memory struggled. Doctors devised an intensive rehabilitation plan for Lucas’s body and mind.  

The staples in his head were removed at the end of February. With that celebration came an honest conversation about his eye. Karen shared how crushing it was to her son when he learned the truth, that his eye had to be removed as the damage was too severe to fix it. As he saw pictures of his truck and how he looked in the early days following the accident, they agreed to focus on the positives.

“Look at all the miracles we’ve seen these last 30 days,” Karen wrote. “But, the other side of this is, he’s still dependent on others for all personal cares. He can stand with assistance. We are still a long way from anything resembling normalcy. He has little use of his left hand, limited left arm use, left leg is getting stronger but still noticeably weaker.”

In late February, Lucas took his first steps since the accident. It was brief but a major victory. Shortly after he was moved into the rehabilitation facility. He was fitted for a wheelchair to provide him more independence as he regains strength and mobility, as well as a brace to ensure his fractured vertebrae heals without disruption.   

Lucas has taken to his homework assignments like a studious student. And the dedication yielded results. He could lift his arm,  open and close his hand and give a thumb’s up, while chatting on a video call with family back in Frazee.

To put into perspective how miraculous his recovery has been, Karen said  specialists came for an evaluation. After conversing with her, he stopped, looked at Lucas and in a loud voice asked if he understood what they were saying.

“He responded with, ‘Yeah, I understood you just fine,’” Karen said. “They were rather startled! When you read Lucas’s chart, he simply should not be doing as well as he is, there should be some very clear deficits.  As I’ve said so many times, he is a miracle.”

As March rolled in, it brought with it debilitating headaches. They have been disruptive to the point Lucas has had to take a few unscheduled days off from his therapies.

“Each time he tried to sit up, his right eye would begin to ‘shake,’ roll backwards a little, then he’d become limp for a few seconds, then come to and say, ‘I’m still here, I’m OK,’” Karen wrote.  

Doctors are planning a cranioplasty, which is a surgical procedure used to correct a defect in a bone of the skull. Karen said a 3D machine is being used to print a new piece of skull to replace the part that was removed to allow for his brain to swell.

There are a lot of uncertainties Lucas is facing, but he is not doing it alone. In addition to dedicated family and friends, the communities where they call home have shown support through prayers and donations. For that support, the family is grateful.

“He responded with, ‘Yeah, I understood you just fine. They were rather startled! When you read Lucas’s chart, he simply should not be doing as well as he is, there should be some very clear deficits.  As I’ve said so many times, he is a miracle.”

Karen Mitchell