Utah blogger Stephanie Nielson promised God she would share her story

By Sonja Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Feb. 10 2014 12:40 p.m. MST

Stephanie Nielson gives a keynote address at RootsTech on Saturday, Feb. 8.

Sonja Carlson, Deseret News

Plane crash survivor, blogger and New York Times best-selling author Stephanie Nielson encouraged thousands of RootsTech attendees to document their lives during her Feb. 8 keynote address.

“Document your families,” she said. “Document your life. You may not have been through a plane crash, but you do have a story. Everyone has a story, and it needs to be told.”

Nielson started blogging in 2005 as a way to keep in touch with family in Utah while she and her husband, along with their children, lived in New Jersey. She kept at it as they later moved to Arizona. In 2008, her blogging — and her life — was interrupted.

“On Saturday, Aug. 16, my life fell apart,” Nielson said. “My husband and I were in this airplane that crashed, and when it crashed, it exploded. And because of this violent impact, we were all knocked unconscious. So, being unconscious and in a fiery airplane, I was burned over 80 percent of my body. I was put into a medically induced coma for three and a half months.”

Nielson said that from the time she could remember, all she wanted to be was a mother. She awoke from her coma that November and then went through “months of grueling, skin-ripping physical therapy.”

“Each day, when I was in this excruciating, horrible pain, doctors and nurses would change my bandages, sometimes twice a week, and I still couldn’t move on my own,” Nielson said. “Each day I was so discouraged. Each day I became a little more depressed, and my dream of being that mother I’ve always wanted to be my entire life was disappearing.”

Before the crash, Nielson was a busy mother — teaching yoga at a local studio, cooking, cleaning, hugging and changing diapers, she said.

“Now I was the child,” Nielson said. “And I was in need, and someone was holding me when I cried, and changing my diapers. And it was equally humiliating as it was disappointing and frustrating.”

Nielson described seeing her children for the first time after the crash, five and a half months later, as an equally horrible and inspiring experience. She said her daughter Jane took one look at her and wouldn’t look at her again she was so frightened.

“After the visit I pretty much cried that entire day and night and weeks and days that followed,” Nielson said. “I decided that I never wanted to be a mother again. But as the days went on, I thought a lot about our meeting. I think that meeting was both horrible as it was inspiring. I wanted my job back.”

Nielson said she was determined to be present, active and in charge of her family again despite her doctors' warnings that she would have a limited lifestyle.

“My faith blossomed, and I knew everything would be just fine,” she said. “I had all my toes, I had all my fingers, I had ears, I had a nose, I could smell, I could hear, I could see my children, and, best of all, I still [had] those children. I had my husband, who stood by me, strong and immovable, defending me and encouraging me. My children could remember my mother heart and could see it as I was relearning to be that mother again.”

Nielson relearned how to tie her shoes with her son, who was learning how to tie his for the first time, she said.

“One day I wore jeans, one day I wore mascara, and my girls were ecstatic. And then, I began to blog,” Nielson said.

She knew her story needed to be shared.

“One day as I lay in my bed after the accident, I saw my computer, which sat on my desk nearby,” Nielson said. “And I knew I had just lived through a horrible, terrible ordeal. But I also knew that I was a miracle, and that story needed to be shared. I knew it needed to be shared, and I remember promising God that if he would bless me and heal me, I would share my story.”

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