Christmas at Sunnyside Farm of rural Preston will be even more special as Greg and Cheryl Dornink reflect on the blessings of health, family and the answer to many prayers after Greg's farm accident earlier this fall. (Photo courtesy of Jenny Dornink)
Christmas at Sunnyside Farm of rural Preston will be even more special as Greg and Cheryl Dornink reflect on the blessings of health, family and the answer to many prayers after Greg's farm accident earlier this fall. (Photo courtesy of Jenny Dornink)
The sharing of Christmas blessings has been a part of life for Greg and Cheryl (Ray) Dornink for over 39 years, yet this year they have special reasons to celebrate.

 A farm accident in September required an extensive hospital stay and recovery at home. Family and community members provided a healing support as the couple relied on their faith to get them through a difficult time.

Growing up in Fillmore County, Greg is the son of Marlo and Alice Dornink of Rochester and Cheryl is the daughter of Darrel and Lois Ray of rural Preston.

Even though Greg attended school in Harmony and Cheryl went to school in Preston, they began dating when they were 16 and 14 years old respectively.

Lois remembers, "Greg had a strong Christian base even as a teenager. When he was dating Cheryl in high school, we went to the Greenleafton Reformed Church to hear him give a sermon. He was just a kid and was sharing his faith with others and his faith has carried him through the years."

Their families both raised dairy and beef, so Greg and Cheryl understood early in life the importance of caring for the land and being faithful to their daily chores. A common love for God, family, farming and each other set a solid foundation for their life together.

After dating for four years, the couple was married in 1977 and farmed in the Greenleafton area for 10 years. In 1987, they joined Cheryl's parents in a farming partnership. Life moved forward with Greg being fully employed with the day-to-day farm operation and Cheryl working at the Mayo Clinic, where she worked 21.5 years. She currently works with the Department of Development and both of them are actively involved in the lives of their children: Jenny of Preston; Marshall of Buffalo, N.Y.; and Dallas and Sarah (Tesmer) Dornink of St. Paul.

Greg and Cheryl are always ready to lend a helping hand. As members of United Methodist Church in Preston, they are very active, plus Greg serves as the president of the Fillmore County Agricultural Society, also known as the Fillmore County Fair Board; he is vice-president of the Fillmore County Farm Bureau, and they have helped with 4-H related activities and volunteered in the community for years.

John Grabko, site supervisor of Historic Forestville has called Sunnyside Farm often seeking help with physical work or advice on farming.

"Busy as he is, time was made to help us out. Greg and Darrel are an essential team in the successful operation of our site and we were shocked to hear about the accident. Over the years, Greg has become our 'go-to guy' and he always comes out when you need him with a smile, a great sense of humor, and his father-in-law to offer help with anything from chickens to plowing."

The strong, steady presence of Greg was felt by most people who came in contact with him.

The rhythm of their lives abruptly changed on Sept. 19, 2012.

The day began as any other with Cheryl heading off in the early morning to catch the bus to work and Greg doing his regular chores.

 Later in the day, Greg was rounding up a couple of nervous heifers to send to the locker. Just as he was swinging the gate shut, one of the heifers charged it.

Greg recalls, "I thought I was going to be able to stop her from getting out, but instead the gate hit me in the corner of my right eye."

Cheryl's dad, who had been working with Greg that day, came back after being gone for about 10 minutes and saw Greg on the ground.

"As I drove down to the 'bull pen' I saw Greg lying on the ground" remembered Darrel. "Then he got up, shut the gates and staggered toward me. I asked him what happened and he answered, 'I don't know. I don't remember.' He was bleeding profusely from the gash just above his eye. I told him to stay put, to hang onto the fence and I went to get Lois."

With thoughts of taking him to the emergency room, they brought the car down to where he was lying. Darrel had left a message on Cheryl's cell phone to tell her about the accident. The plan was to have Cheryl get off the commuter bus in Stewartville, and they would pick her up on the way to Saint Marys Hospital.

However, Greg was in tremendous pain.

"After calling home to see what was going on and talking to both Mom and Greg, I told Mom to call the ambulance," relayed Cheryl.

Darrel hurried to the shop to call 911. Within minutes, to the relief of Darrel and Lois, an EMT, Ryan Throckmorton was on site.

"It was just minutes before Ryan pulled in and immediately assessed Greg and made decisions about his care. Soon the deputy and ambulance crew had everything in control. Having professionals there so quickly in the midst of the whirlwind of activity made a huge difference in Greg's care and recovery," remarked Lois.

When the ambulance arrived, Jazzie, their pet dog, was sitting with Greg. The last things Greg remembers were Ryan asking if the dog was going to be all right and Deb Ristau asking him questions. The rest is forgotten except by the others who were present.

Because of the extent of the head injuries, Mayo One was called and the ambulance headed to the Fillmore County Airport where Greg was transferred to Mayo One and flown to Saint Marys Hospital.

Meanwhile, Cheryl reached Greg's parents, who picked her up and they all drove to the hospital to wait for Greg to arrive.

 Cheryl also called each of their children to let them know that their dad had had an accident and was being air lifted to Saint Marys.

A prayer chain immediately formed.

"Waiting for the news of what had happened and the injuries Greg had sustained were the hardest," commented Cheryl. "An ER physician came to the waiting room and gave a brief update about possible injuries. Since he didn't have x-rays or CT scan results, the most he could tell us was that Greg had taken quite a hit to his head."

Just before going up to his room, the couple's pastor, the Rev. Michael Smith and the Rev. Shaun Gustafson, Greg's parents' pastor, prayed with Cheryl, Marlo and Alice.

"I felt immediate peace during the prayer and just knew that things were going to be all right," remarked Cheryl. "I still didn't know the extent of his injuries but I wasn't fearful either."

Shortly after arriving on the floor where Greg had been moved, Cheryl said they were able to see him.

"His face, hair and beard were covered in blood, he was intubated, leads on his chest, a collar on his neck, and IVs in three places," she described.

Greg's mother, Alice added, "It was tough to see your son lying in all those tubes, eyes closed, blood was tough."

Throughout the next several hours, Cheryl and their family learned that Greg had fractured the facial bones on his right side, shattered his right eye socket, had a gash to the bone the length of his eye brow, and had two skull fractures as well as bleeding on his brain.

"It was a lot to take in," recalled Cheryl. "I think it was the hardest on the kids because you don't expect to see someone as vital and strong as their dad lying helpless in a hospital bed. It was hard on Marshall too because he was so far away. Greg was sedated until Saturday when they were finally able to bring him out of the induced coma."

People experiencing a head injury can have a personality change, so until he woke up, the family didn't know if he would need physical therapy to help him walk again, occupational therapy to help in daily living, or what type of memory or brain function existed.

"In Greg's case, (he has a dry sense of humor anyway) he became a comedian!" said Cheryl. "There were times when I had to turn away when he was talking to someone because I was laughing so hard. I told him at one point that if farming wasn't an option anymore, he could become a stand-up comedian."

Some of the effects of Greg's head injury were restlessness, impulsiveness and insomnia.

"While he was sedated, they kept him on a steady dose of pain meds, but once he was out of the coma, he really didn't take much for pain at all," Cheryl said. "He didn't have headaches, migraines, or much pain at all. He had double vision, which made him a bit unsteady. That lasted until about a week after the accident. Once we were home, he asked me to make him an eye patch as he could see better without having the double vision. He took it off after two days and realized that the double vision was gone."

The victories Greg experienced were many.

Cheryl explained, "His vision came back without surgery. His fractures were bad and he had a couple small bone fragments that were 'floating.' The last CT scan showed the fractures and fragments were healing together! He didn't need facial surgery and most people cannot tell that he was so seriously injured. His only loss of memory is the first five days in the hospital and he only spent a total of six days in the hospital...a surprise for us and the doctors!"

She continued, "Once he woke up, the healing just seemed to progress so quickly! One day he's walking with the physical therapist and the next day they're telling us he can go home. It was unimaginable that he was healing so quickly!"

Greg and Cheryl's family is thankful for all the blessings they experienced starting with the quick response time of the Preston Ambulance Crew and Mayo One, as well as the many doctors and nurses (six different teams of doctors) caring for Greg.

"They treated him and us so very well especially in the little things like when Greg's nurse, Scott, brought Sarah and me heated blankets when the room had to be kept cool to help with his rising temperature. Greg's first nurse, Eric, mentioned that I should think about starting a Caring Page to help keep family and friends informed about Greg's progress."

At that point, Cheryl shared she had not realized just how serious of an injury her husband had so she didn't think it was necessary.

"The day after the accident, Sarah asked me if I would like her to start the Caring Page," she added. "Without Sarah's insistence, I'm not sure I would have been able to get it started because I had so much on my mind."

Once it was created, Sarah, Dallas and Cheryl would take turns updating the pages. "It turned out to be a lifesaver for us and gave us an outlet for all of the information we were getting and was also a way to keep everyone informed," Cheryl stated. "Plus, it was a way for everyone to tell us that they were thinking and praying for Greg and our family."

A surprise opportunity for a visit came when a client of Marshall's insisted that he take her frequent flyer miles to fly home to see his dad.

The Dornink family is so very grateful to God for all the gifts showered upon them. They didn't experience extra hardships because people were so generous with their offers to help prepare meals, volunteer to help with the chores, cattle, field work and many other tasks.

"My co-workers were just fabulous, stopping in with food, parking vouchers, cards, prayers and well wishes," added Cheryl. "And what a blessing it was to have my sister, Rita, and her family near and giving me a place to stay while Greg was in the hospital. Staying at their place is almost like being home, plus I was only 10 minutes away from the hospital. Also, a very special thank you goes to my folks for keeping things under control on the farm, I don't know what I would have done without them."

Greg and Cheryl are appreciative of so many people and would like to acknowledge those who stepped in to help them in this time of need. "There was a huge number of people who were praying for Greg's recovery," said Cheryl. "Many, many people from across the United States were praying. We heard from so many people as far away as Washington State, New York, Texas, New Jersey, stating that they and their churches and prayer groups were praying for Greg's full recovery."

These invisible prayers not only were witnessed in Greg's personal recovery but became tangible blessings as help poured out to the Ray and Dornink families. "We truly live in a wonderful, caring community," Cheryl added.

This Christmas season finds Greg's mother remembering the words of her pastor's wife, Amy, who told her Greg would be a walking miracle. And he is!

Greg has noticed that when he goes into a store within the communities of southern Minnesota and people realize who he is, they mention that they and their church had prayed for him.

"How wonderful is that?" said Greg. "The first thing I wanted to do when I got home from the hospital was to walk around the farmstead and Sarah escorted me on my walk. Darrel and Lois have an old school bell mounted on their deck. It's a big deal to ring the bell and ring the bell I did! I also gave Lois a big hug! It felt so good to be home and out of the hospital."

Christmas this year will be very special indeed at Sunnyside Farm in rural Preston.

"We feel so blessed to have Greg's health, the kids home with us, and spending time with extended family," said Cheryl. "Since we were married, we've always cut our own Christmas tree and decorated it with the kids. Marshall isn't home to help any longer, but Dallas, Sarah and Jenny are usually here to put the tree up, get the lights on, and all of the ornaments. It's nice that the kids still want to be a part of putting up our tree."

Family and family traditions are so very important and during the Christmas season we become aware of how Jesus' birth makes us all family. The members of the Ray and Dornink families witnessed the power of prayers offered all over the nation for Greg and are especially grateful for the answers to their prayers this year.

"To me, having that many people praying for Greg and our family is the biggest blessing of all because without all of the prayers, I don't think he would be where he is today," Cheryl concluded. " He truly experienced the healing power of God!"