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Coping with an unfortunate turn in life | Klaas

Kendall Lindberg recently celebrated her 16th birthday with friends, from left, Sara Weaver, Morgan Scott and Crystal Martinez. Friendship has helped Kendall regain her spirits.  - Mark Klaas/Auburn Reporter
Kendall Lindberg recently celebrated her 16th birthday with friends, from left, Sara Weaver, Morgan Scott and Crystal Martinez. Friendship has helped Kendall regain her spirits.
— image credit: Mark Klaas/Auburn Reporter

Life can be cruel, blunt and terribly unfair.

Just ask Dara Lindberg, who realized a mother's own worst nightmare when her 15-year-old daughter became paralyzed from the waist down while surfing off the shores of Maui in April.

Kendall Lindberg, a determined and athletic girl, began to suffer severe back pain while testing the waves for the first time with an instructor.

The pain quickly became so extreme that she reluctantly left the waters.

"The lessons were expensive, a gift from her aunt," Dara said. "She was determined. She stuck it out … and now regrets not coming out of the water sooner."

Not long after coming ashore, Kendall no longer could feel her legs or feet.

Rushed to a Maui hospital, she was later diagnosed with surfer's myelopathy, a rare nontraumatic paralysis.

In a freak set of circumstances, the land of paradise had unleashed hell on a vacationing family.

"We're still in disbelief about how it happened," Dara said while glancing at her wheelchair-bound daughter inside their home in bucolic Ravensdale.

"It's hard. It's hard watching Kendall having to struggle," said Dara, a mother of four and a first-grade teacher at Dick Scobee Elmentary School. "I wish I could take the pain away, take away the frustration, the anger."

For a teenager with so much to look forward to, it is difficult to accept, let alone understand.

Seldom are novice surfers injured this way. Kendall is one of a few known cases.

"She basically had a stroke of the spinal cord," her mother said. "I mean, it's easier to get bitten by a shark than to have this happen to you."

The spinal cord injury is caused by hyperextension of the back while lying prone on the surfboard for an extended period of time. A blood vessel leading to the spine can become kinked, depriving the spinal cord of oxygen.

While most patients suffering from surfer's myelopathy have a complete or near-complete recovery, Kendall and others sustain permanent damage.

Kendall, however, maintains hope that she will walk one day.

"I still want to be everything I was going to do … graduate, go to college and be an interior designer," said Kendall, a sophomore at Tahoma High School who turned 16 last Saturday. "I'm doing OK. … I tell myself each day that I can do this. I tell myself to stay positive."

Added Dara: "I still want to see her walking down the aisle on her wedding day."

For now, Kendall fights anger and bitterness. Having her world tossed upside-down, Kendall must negotiate a daily routine of slow bus shuttles to and from classes and physical therapy sessions. She relies frequently on family and friends to do routine things.

"It's hard. She's always been this determined, competitive, independent kid," Dara said. "She wanted to get dressed by herself at 4."

Family and friends have rallied around her. They are determined to maintain her spirits in the most difficult of times.

"She's still the same ol' Kendall," said Morgan, a friend, classmate and soccer teammate. "She's still a part of our team. She's still on the sideline, telling us that we're slacking off."

Kendall, who has played soccer since she was 5, now inherits a managerial role with her high school team and select club, the Mauraders.

The soccer clubs and community continue to show their support with fundraising efforts to help the Lindberg family cover medical bills.

The Auburn community is joining the cause with a benefit Sunday at the Pazzo Coffee Shop, 3312 Auburn Way S. The event, which will include a barbecue, raffle, auction and live music, starts at 11 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m.

"Friends and family have been huge," said Jim Lindberg, an electrician who co-owns his own company in Kent. "Through all the trials and tribulations, it's as good as it can be."

Jim and his family have kept the faith. Their faith has helped them through the painful ordeal.

Family members are making their home more comfortable and accessible for Kendall. They also plan to equip a car with hand devices so Kendall can get around on her own.

"She will be pumped. She can get back her life, some independence," Jim added. "We're trying to make things convenient and easier for her."

But it remains a difficult situation, and one that time will help heal.

"As a parent, it's the worst nightmare," Dara said. "But the way Kendall has handled it, I think has been commendable.

"I give her permission all the time that it's OK to be mad, that it's OK to get frustrated," she said. "It's something she has to get through."

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Benefit for Kendall

• When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m., June 13

• Where: Pazzo Coffee, 3312 Auburn Way S.

• What: Derm F/X Tattoo is organizing the fundraiser, which will include a barbecue, raffle, auction and live music. Proceeds will help the Lindberg family cover her medical costs, as well as make her home and yard wheelchair accessible and convert a car to use hand controls.

• Information: 253-351-6513.

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