Hettinger senior Kilwein improving after nasty accident
Tess Kilwein is heady and calm on the basketball court.
Those same attributes likely saved Kilwein and her friend's lives when they were involved in a nearly tragic car accident 11 days ago.
The morning of Jan. 17, Kilwein was driving home from Bismarck. She and her friend, Lindsey Honeyman, had spent a rare weekend without school-related activities hanging out with her older sister, Cloe, a freshman at the University of Mary.
A senior at Hettinger High School and an all-Region 7 point guard for the Black Devils' girls basketball team, Kilwein didn't have school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but needed to get home so she could play in a night game against Dickinson Trinity -- a game that, unbeknownst to Kilwein, had already been postponed due to weather.
They never made it.
Kilwein said she didn't panic when the car she was driving hit a patch of black ice near Exit 110 on Interstate 94.
Instead, like trying to navigate her way through defenders, Kilwein's instincts kicked in.
"I looked and said, 'I'm not going to break and I'm not going to turn the wheels.' I figured if we'd go straight into the ditch, we'd just get stuck," Kilwein said.
Just like going strong to the hoop and drawing a foul, Kilwein had the right idea.
She never expected the car to hit another patch of ice as it was going into the ditch.
The car rolled three and a half times.
Kilwein said she remembers the first roll, but very little after that.
Because her seatbelt did not lock and the driver's side airbag did not deploy, she hit her head on the steering wheel, knocking one of her teeth and impacting another.
"It knocked me out right away and I don't remember anything until the next night," Kilwein said.
Everything else Kilwein knows of the accident, she learned second-hand from Honeyman, whose car she was driving.
After three and a half rolls, the car finally came to a rest.
"My top half was hanging out of the car and my other half was inside," Kilwein said. "If it would have rolled one more time, the car would have broken in half. If I didn't have my seatbelt on, I'd be dead."
When the ambulance arrived on the scene, Kilwein had a punctured lung and two-inch laceration on her left cheek along with numerous others cuts on her face.
Kilwein and Honeyman were rushed to St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck.
In adjacent emergency rooms, Honeyman heard Kilwein scream as doctors put a tube in her side to restore her breathing.
"I was just really scared," said Honeyman, who was treated for whiplash and numerous bruises. "I didn't know what they were doing. I didn't want anything to be really bad with her. I just wanted her to be OK."
Aside from the punctured lung, Kilwein ended up with 32 stitches on her face but no broken bones.
After five days in the hospital filled with recovery and plastic surgery to repair her face lacerations, Kilwein was released. She returned home on Monday and went back to school Wednesday.
Eleven days after the accident, Kilwein has a bounce in her step and her upbeat attitude is back.
"Her progress has been miraculous," Mary Kilwein said. "... She's so strong and such a fighter, she's healing up," Mary Kilwein said. "Early in the last week, it didn't look like it, but day by day, it's just been phenomenal."
Hopes of returning
Though doctors told her that her basketball season was likely over, Tess Kilwein said she wants to be ready to play again by Feb. 24, the opening day of the District 13 Tournament.
She was averaging a team-best 15 points and four steals per game. On Jan. 13, the last game she played before the accident, Kilwein scored a career-high 26 points in a 50-36 victory at New England.
"She just completely took that game over," Hettinger head coach John Butterfield said. "She was at a point in her career where she found out where she fit the best and what she could do best to help the team."
The Black Devils (5-4) visit District 13 rival Mott-Regent at 7 p.m. today. It will be their second game without Kilwein, and Butterfield said learning to play without her has been a bit of a challenge.
"She'd been scoring, but she would upset the opposite team," Butterfield said. "I turned her loose out front and she'd pick and choose where she'd attack on defense."
While Kilwein's ability to play again this season will depend on what doctors say, she is keeping her fingers crossed that she will be back on the court by the end of February.
"I just feel like I left my team hanging," Kilwein said.