SIOUX CITY | Rosanne Plante sits on a hospital bed at Mercy Medical Center and sorts through a stack of cards, yesterday's mail. One is postmarked Germany. Another comes from a friend she's not heard from in 20 years.
"Chad, you can make it!" a writer from Anthon, Iowa, exhorts.
Later on, Rosanne will read cards to Chad, who may or may not open his eyes or squeeze her hand. He's been opening his eyes; he has been squeezing her hand at times, perhaps letting his wife know he hears her and may soon join her.
"We've had a run of good luck," Rosanne says. "We've had about six days now where Chad has opened his eyes."
Chad Plante, though, remains in a coma, the unconscious state he's been in since being involved in a crash around 5:40 a.m. on Nov. 15. The incident took place at Business Highway 75 and Outer Belt Drive. Chad was on his way to Palmer's Olde Tyme Candy Shoppe, where he works in maintenance and engineering, and was toying with ways to fully automate his area of the plant.
The Sioux City Police Department reports that Plante was driving a 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe south on Highway 75 when a Sioux City Transit bus made a left turn onto Outer Drive from the northbound lanes of Highway 75.
Plante's vehicle was turned onto its side. He had to be mechanically extricated from the Tahoe before being transported to Mercy.
Rosanne Plante was at home on their rural Hinton acreage when a law enforcement official knocked on the door around 7:15 a.m.
"The officer said, 'Does Chad Plante live here?'" Rosanne remembers. "Are you his wife?"
Rosanne answered in the affirmative to both as she glanced at Chad's driver's license, held in the officer's hands.
Rosanne learned that Chad was at Mercy, so she hopped in her vehicle and headed south. She stopped at the accident site, blocked and still under investigation. (The Iowa State Patrol has since taken over the investigation as it involved a city vehicle. Charges are pending based on the outcome of the investigation.)
Rosanne couldn't get very close as officers were still working the scene. She kept going south to Mercy, where she saw Chad shortly before he went into surgery to set two broken legs.
"He had a huge gash, a contusion on the right side of his head," she says.
Doctors addressed his leg wounds in a 3-hour procedure. At 5 p.m. that day, a neurosurgeon advised Rosanne that Chad had sustained a traumatic brain injury. The next morning, she was advised to start funeral preparations as his brain stem had been severely damaged.
"We got a second opinion," Rosanne said, adding it came from Dr. Quentin Durward, who offered hope and a plan of attack involving a shunt to relieve the pressure on Chad's brain.
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"Dr. Durward did the shunt and his (Chad's) inner cranial pressure spiked in days three through six," Rosanne said. "Then it drained and the pressure was relieved."
Eventually, the shunt came out. On Monday, doctors put in a trach tube, Chad's third surgical procedure. In between that time, one day after Thanksgiving, precisely, Chad began to breathe on his own, for the most part. And while he remains in a coma, his wife and his doctors see progress in his open eyes.
The plan is to have Chad moved this week to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals in Lincoln, Nebraska, where Rosanne will remain at his side as he embarks on a lengthy road to recovery. "I have to be there with him," she says. "This is us. He is strong; I know he doesn't want to die."
His wife shows her strength in this time. An attorney for 20 years, including a six-year stint with the city of Sioux City, Rosanne juggles his care and client consultations. She expresses her gratitude for judges who realize what she's going through with her husband's fight. Rosanne's goal is to one day become a judge herself.
"An opening (a judicial opening) popped up the day after the crash," she says, signalling her intentions to apply for the vacancy.
The development is part of a whirlwind year for the Plantes, who started 2016 by making plans to tour the state, participating in as many Mrs. Iowa International events as they could. Rosanne, you see, was crowned Mrs. Iowa International in February. Her platform centered on growing produce and feeding those in need. She and Chad, from their massive garden plot, donated more than 1,000 pounds of produce to the Sioux City Gospel Mission.
Mrs. Iowa International, an avid gardener, worked with her husband to recruit similar growers in Iowa's 99 counties, a feat they accomplished then expanded to include givers in four bordering states.
"We were on track to do 100 events as Mrs. Iowa," Rosanne says. "And as a team, we'd done 92. On the week of the accident, I helped host the Tour of Homes in Sioux City. Chad had begun to build me a float for the Christmas parade downtown."
He planned to pull the float with one of his antique tractors.
Now, he's seeking the horsepower and the willpower to emerge from a coma. His wife, who has suspended her Mrs. Iowa activities, focuses on being there for him, remaining a positive, calming and loving presence at his bedside.
"We planned to start a family this year," she said, her voice cracking if only for a second.
She glances at the cards and talks about friends who have reconnected, strangers who continue to reach out. She opens another envelope, one of two dozen cards that brighten the room.
What does she need?
"For people to pray for us," she says. "To keep us in their thoughts."