TWIN FALLS — When I look back on 2017, what sticks with me aren’t big headlines about new schools, retirements or budgets.

It’s the personal stories of tragedy, hope and endurance you’ve entrusted me to tell, the stories about people dealing with an injury or illness in a deeply personal way.

As a reporter, it hits you in a way few other assignments can. It’s a reality check and brings everything into perspective. It’s a reminder to be compassionate, because you never really know what someone else is dealing with. And it’s uplifting to see readers respond with donations and in other ways to help someone who’s struggling.

One of the most memorable health stories I covered this year was about a premature baby and her journey.

Rainna Crabb was born in March in Twin Falls at 24 weeks gestation, and weighed only 1 lb., 1 ounce. She was released from St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit in Boise after about four months.

Other stories include College of Southern Idaho rodeo athlete Braxten Nielsen walking out of a Salt Lake City hospital two months after doctors told him he’d be paralyzed following an August rodeo accident, and Filer 12-year-old Mia Trease battling bone cancer and recovering from rotationplasty surgery.

I met a few community members this fall who are coping with a traumatic brain injury. It was part of a Big Story about the high rate of TBIs in the Magic Valley and a struggle among patients to find support.

One of my first interviews for the project was with Michael Howell, who has brain injury and created a support group through CSI. In 2008, he was four-wheeling with a group in the South Hills when his all-terrain vehicle fell off the edge of a mountain.

“I don’t remember a whole week,” he told me. “It’s pretty patchy. Your whole world is flipped upside down.”

Howell has spent many hours learning about his condition, and when he couldn’t find a support group, he decided to create one.

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Another impactful interview was with 18-year-old Isaac Johnson’s mother, Kiele Whitney. She was kind to let a photographer and I tag along to one of Johnson’s speech therapy appointments this fall at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center.

In April, Johnson — who was wrapping up his first year at CSI — was in a vehicle accident. He was in a coma at a Pocatello hospital and his prognosis wasn’t looking good.

“We were told with this type of injury that he probably would not wake up,” Whitney told me. But she chose to have hope.

Her son still has a long road ahead. But he’s determined to walk again. And they’ve found support through CSI’s TBI group.

As 2017 wraps up, I’d like to say thank you to the Magic Valley residents who’ve allowed us to tell your health-related stories this year. You’ve inspired me with your persistence, hope and positive attitude.

Here’s to hoping for better health in 2018.

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