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Stephanie Nielson of NieNie Dialogues: Sharing Her Hope

Jamie Lawson - August 07, 2012

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Stephanie Nielson. Photograph by Jed Wells.

Four years ago, popular NieNie Dialogues blogger Stephanie Nielson was in a horrific plane crash that burned 80 percent of her body. Since the accident, she has overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges to reclaim a beautiful life with her husband and children. Read as she shares her very personal near-death experience, as well as her personal mission: to share the hope of the gospel with others.

On August 16, 2008, Stephanie Nielson boarded a Cessna 177 Cardinal for a daytrip with her husband, Christian, who had recently earned his pilot’s license, and Doug Kinneard, Christian’s flight instructor and dear friend. 

After stopping in St. Johns, Arizona, to refuel for their return to Mesa, the small plane sped down the runway and climbed into the sky. But without warning, the plane plummeted to the quiet neighborhood below.

The 27-year-old mother of four was knocked unconscious upon impact, only to awaken to the sickening smell of burning fuel and burning flesh—her flesh. “I was drowning in flames,” she recalls. “I reached for the seatbelt, but I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t get out.”

Help from Heaven

Nielson screamed for help, but her cries went unanswered. Christian had escaped the plane, believing his wife was right behind him, and Kinneard was unconscious in his seat. Finally she stopped struggling and accepted that she would burn to death. But she suddenly felt someone at her side guiding her hand to unbuckle the seatbelt and guiding her to the airplane door—and that someone was her deceased nana, Aurora. When Nielson escaped from the plane, her body engulfed in flames, her grandmother told her: “Roll.”

“There were people from the other side of the veil helping me,” Nielson says. “I felt my grandmother and others there.”

In addition to help from loved ones beyond the veil, Nielson says there were other miracles that day.

“The first miracle is that when we crashed, we didn’t hurt anyone on the ground,” she says. And Nielson believes where the plane crashed was no coincidence—across from an LDS bishop’s home.

“I remember men running over to me,” she recalls. “The first thing they asked is if there were other people in the plane. Then they asked if I was LDS and if I wanted a priesthood blessing. They gave me a blessing that I would be comforted and that things would turn out the way they were supposed to, and that I would have limited pain. It was awful, but it was a very spiritual moment.”

Christian Nielson, age 29, and Doug Kinneard, age 48, were also badly burned. With a broken back and burns on 40 percent of his body, Christian was the most fortunate of the three plane-crash victims. Soon after they were airlifted to the Arizona Burn Center in Phoenix, Kinneard, who suffered burns on 90 percent of his body, died from his injuries.

Doctors put the Nielsons in medically induced comas. Christian awoke about five weeks later, but it would be three and a half months before Stephanie would regain consciousness.

Waking Up

Her arms, legs, hands, and face were covered with third- and fourth-degree burns—the worst occurring on her face. She was unrecognizable, but surgeons were at least able to retrieve enough tissue from other parts of her body to give her a new nose and ears. There was talk of amputating limbs. A deadly liver infection nearly killed her, and her heart stopped beating on multiple occasions. All the while, doctors performed surgeries every few days to harvest and graft new skin.

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On November 5, 2008, Nielson awoke to find her body encased in bandages. She was unable to move, unable to speak. But her mother and sister Page were at her side. They gently told her about the accident and that her children had been living with her sisters in Utah while she and Christian recovered. Lucy had baby Nicholas. Courtney had the three older children: Claire, age 6; Jane, age 5; and Oliver, age 3. She also took over Stephanie’s popular blog, NieNie Dialogues, to keep readers updated on her sister’s condition.

Nielson was devastated to be so helpless, unable to care for her children.

“When I woke up from my coma and learned where my children were, I felt guilty, but I also felt at ease because I knew they were being taken care of,” she says. “This is what families are about.”

In mid-November, the couple moved to Utah, with Stephanie at the University of Utah Burn Center, to be closer to their children while they continued their long physical and emotional recovery.

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© LDS Living, July/August 2012.
Comments 1 comments

blinko said...

03:16 PM
on Jul 29, 2013

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Dear Stephanie, I just finished reading your book Heaven Is Here. I have never written to anyone like this before but I was so moved by your story and have been through tough times in my own life that I felt I wanted to reach out to you. In 1990 three months after graduating with a Masters Degree in counseling I was in a car 1 accident that changed my life forever. I ended up after five years of constant pain,headaches,vertigo and vomiting to discover I had a blood clot on my brain stem.I had four brain surgeries to try to mend things but am left in constant pain and vertigo. I too went through a crisis of faith and fear of how I would ever be able to be of use for God and my family again. My husband and children, our two sons had to deal with so much and take over so much of my responsibilities. We lost half of our income and I had been the one carrying our medical insurance, my employer fired me for being on too long of a medical leave. There were days I was too sick to get dressed and out of bed. The steroids for the brain swelling made me gain weight and all the medicines for depression made me worse and nothing made me better for so long.There were days when the prayers of others made my day and gave me strength to go on. I felt I had lost everyting that mattered my career most of all. I had to see that my work was not the definition of me. I wondered how I would recover but through it all I learned the things you talked about. My relationships to my husband and children mattered more to me than the praise I got from doing therapy.I learned to go to God when I was weak and tired and in pain.I had two operations on my back,surgery on my ankle and a hysterectomy in the next two years. I felt I would never get better I recently had my knee replaced and need surgery on the other one. I have now found that on the days when I feel physically awful that are the days when God works through me to help others recover from their emotional pain.I specialize in treating women and children who were sexually abused. I want to thank you for sharing your journey and will pray God will continue to bless you with health and healing in the years to come. Thank you for sharing your story. Sincerely, Barbara Linko, bgillespie13081@yahoo.com
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