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Magnolia School Staff Rally Around Teacher, Family
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En route to Oakdale for Thanksgiving with family, former longtime Valley Home residents Michael and Linda Braaten were involved in an auto accident on Nov. 23 on Highway 395 near Pasco, Wash., each sustaining serious injuries.

The Braaten’s daughter, Marlo Smith, is a first grade teacher at Magnolia Elementary School and fellow Magnolia staff members are rallying around the family so that Smith can take care of her parents. Fellow Magnolia first grade teacher Rhonda Duarte said that Smith didn’t ask for help, but some Magnolia staff members have donated money and others are donating their sick days to Smith. She added that Smith has been hit with additional financial strains due to the location and seriousness of her parents’ hospitalization.

“It has hit close to home and she’s a dear friend of ours,” Duarte said. “…They’re private people, they’re not asking for this help. We’re just pulling together.”

She reported that Smith and her brothers drove to Washington because they were unable to get a flight out on Nov. 23. Duarte said that Smith’s brothers returned a few days later, but Smith, who left quickly to be with her parents, was staying in a hotel, eating out for her meals, and needed to get a flight back to California. Smith returned to Oakdale on Sunday, Dec. 5.

“She is back in Oakdale to see her family and take care of things at home before returning to assist her parents,” Duarte reported. “She is planning to return to Washington about mid-week.”

Duarte said through all of this, Smith was also worried about her class. Smith had talked to Duarte and said she needed help because she was concerned that she had not set up a holiday craft for her students before she left so they could have something for their parents.

The Braatens, who were both longtime Hershey’s employees, had retired to Idaho. They were traveling to Oakdale in their SUV from their home in Idaho and ran into trouble in Washington with poor winter road conditions and rolled their vehicle off the highway into the median. The couple was okay but while they waited in the backseat of a state trooper’s vehicle to stay warm while their vehicle was being towed out, a pickup truck crashed into the back of the patrol vehicle. This event resulted with injuries to the Braatens that had them both back and forth between being in critical condition and in the Intensive Care Unit, said Magnolia SDC teacher Shauna Rico. She said they both emerged from ICU on Dec. 1.

“Currently her parents have each had their surgery and are recovering on a post-surgical floor,” Duarte said. “They are in the process of getting insurance approval for admission into a rehab center in Post Falls, Idaho.”

Duarte and Rico said that Smith is getting help from a social worker in Washington who is helping to coordinate the efforts to have the Braatens rehabilitate at a facility near their home in Idaho. Duarte added that Smith will temporarily relocate to assist her parents in the rehabilitation process.

Linda Braaten sustained broken vertebrae in her back and 18 broken ribs. She underwent surgery on Nov. 29 to fuse several vertebrae. Michael Braaten sustained a broken neck and 19 broken ribs. His surgery was initially delayed because he had developed pneumonia. However, he has now had surgery as well.

“I think it’s a blessing that they’re alive and a second blessing that they’re not paralyzed,” Rico said.

Smith and Rico are heading up the effort to collect donations for Smith to care for her parents. Donations may be dropped off or sent to Magnolia Elementary School, attention: Shauna Rico or Rhonda Duarte. Checks may be made to Marlo Smith, and please write the word “donation” in the memo, as it may be claimed as such on taxes.