POWELL — When EMTs rushed to load Ethan Asher into an ambulance on the second day of his senior year, they weren’t sure he would make it to the hospital. Doctors in Billings didn’t expect him to survive the night. Then specialists worried he might never be able to speak again or retain memories.
But on May 24, after successfully completing his senior year, Ethan graduated from Powell High School. With honors.
“It’s crazy,” Ethan said last week. “ ... I feel like now, if I told somebody all the stuff that I’ve been through, they would look at me and they’d say, ‘OK, bullcrap — no way that happened, like no way you could go through something like that and sit here looking like you do.’”
And yet here he is: Speaking, joking, tossing a football and thanking God.
“At the very beginning, when the wreck first happened, my prayer was that we would get him back and that he would walk by graduation,” said Tiffani Asher, his mom. “And God has just continually reminded me, ‘Whose plan is this? Mine or yours?’”
The Ashers continue to trust God’s plan. While Ethan is not walking yet, his progress far exceeds what doctors ever expected, and at a quicker pace.
“He keeps defying the odds,” said Payton Asher, his sister.
On Aug. 27, Ethan was on his way to school when his truck rolled.
His injuries were extensive, including a severed spinal cord, torn aorta and severe brain trauma. Medical staff at Powell Valley Hospital encouraged his family to tell Ethan they loved him before he was flown to Billings Clinic.
Last week, Ethan saw his physicians in Billings for the first time since October.
“The one that basically saved my life … he was staring at me and his eyes got really wide,” Ethan said. “Then when I started talking to him, he was like, ‘You should not be here.’”
He said doctors looked at him “as if a dead man was talking to them.”
However, in the wake of the crash, the Ashers’ faith didn’t falter.
“We just knew Ethan had a special purpose in life,” said Andy Asher, his dad. “We felt, anyway, it wasn’t going to be that Ethan was going to die.”
Instead, they knew his injuries were severe, Andy said, “like worst-case, just so that God can be glorified through Ethan.”
“It had to be bad enough to show that it was God [who healed him],” Payton added. “There’s no other explanation for it.”
Ethan’s spinal cord — once severed — was made whole.
“We watched that miracle happen,” Tiffani said.
When Ethan’s legs didn’t move right away, “Payton just kept having to remind us … the legs don’t have anything to do with it. He’s here, and we got to keep him,” Tiffani said. “And just to keep things in perspective, that whatever happens, happens. It’s all God’s plan and not our plan.”
Going into his senior year, Ethan had planned to split his schedule between PHS and Northwest College.
“I had been taking classes ahead of schedule my junior and sophomore year and all that,” he said. “So when I got to my senior year, I only really needed like four more classes to graduate.”
Following treatment in Billings, Ethan underwent three months of therapy at Craig Hospital in Denver, which specializes in spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury rehabilitation.
He finished a semester of English while at Craig, thanks to PHS teacher Tracy McArthur’s help.
“There is no way we could have done that without her,” Tiffani said.
In early January, Ethan came home to Powell, and the Ashers soon met with school leaders about his transition back to PHS.
“Because of how much he had gained in the time that we were at Craig, we just kind of decided as a team that it was better to just jump right in,” Tiffani said.
Teacher Shelley Heny worked with Ethan one-on-one to complete his classes and “really just stepped up and helped him tremendously,” Tiffani said.
Heny made note cards to help Ethan retain details. He finished his government and English classes right before schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Around that time, his memory started improving, Andy said.
His last class was free enterprise with Nick Fulton. By that point, Ethan didn’t depend on the note cards as much.
He earned an A in every class this year and achieved a weighted GPA of 4.114 over his four years at PHS.
The Ashers are thankful for everyone who helped Ethan successfully finish his senior year.
“Going through something like this, I feel like I am like a prime example of why you should just be nice to your teachers,” Ethan said. “Because if you’re just mean to them, they’re not going to help you out.”
In addition to finishing school, Ethan has worked hard on physical therapy, focusing on gaining independence.
“That’s really our goal at this point,” Tiffani said. “And waiting on the miracle, which we still stand in faith that it will happen.”
After graduation, Ethan’s focus will be on continuing to heal, so he’s not planning to go to college right away.
But he’s on track to return to Panther Stadium this fall.
Chase Kistler, the new head coach of the football team, and assistant coach Waleryan Wisniewski recently talked to Ethan about potentially helping coach the Panthers as a volunteer.
“It’s good for everyone to have him around,” Kistler said, noting Ethan’s love of football. “... I could kind of see it in his future that it [coaching] might be something that he may be interested later in life doing.”
While details have yet to be finalized, the coach said he knows his PHS players would “love” to see Ethan with the team.
As a former Panther quarterback, Ethan is used to an intense exercise regimen and he now pushes himself in physical therapy.
Ethan goes to Advantage Rehab three days a week with Lynda Brown and Peter Mason and also does therapy at home, including standing for an hour every day.
“Therapy has been going very well,” Tiffani said. “They’ve been trying all kinds of new things and trying to see what’s awake.”
His abs and muscles in his back are firing, as well as his triceps — which wasn’t the case when he left Craig. While he fatigues easily, Ethan has been able to move his leg forward and then, after a break, backward.
He can’t feel his legs or feet on a consistent basis, “but he can move them and he can work them without having that sensation,” Tiffani said.
“That’s more of just the brain continuing to heal, and it will come,” she said.
His brain is working on making those connections.
“It’s almost like his body is working, like his legs are working, but his mind doesn’t know it,” Payton said.
Their older brother, Brooks, encouraged Ethan to walk by this summer. Brooks is engaged, with plans for an August wedding.
“He was like, ‘Ethan, you better figure out how to get this whole balance thing down, because you’re gonna be my best man, and you got to be walking at my wedding,’” Ethan recalled.
“No pressure,” Tiffani said with a laugh.
Through the school district, Ethan has worked with physical therapist Kerry Breen, occupational therapist Adrienne Harvey and speech therapist Sarah Klingler. All of his therapists have researched how to help Ethan’s specific needs, Tiffani said.
He’s also started massage therapy with Liz Allen, and she is trying to help break up scar tissue and help him heal.
Ethan will undergo surgery this summer for a rotated rib cage from the accident.
“My rib cage just rotated over so much, they’ll have to re-break it and everything and try to get it back to where it used to be,” he said.
From his therapists to doctors to many friends and supporters around Wyoming and beyond, Ethan and his family appreciate all of the support they’ve received.
“I don’t think we can ever, ever say thank you enough,” Tiffani said.
“Going through something like this is tough, but having all the people around … anybody I really talk to or I’ve ever talked to, they’re thinking like, ‘Oh Ethan, what can I do to help you?’” Ethan said. “And everybody’s just been so kind.”
The Ashers’ faith is deeply woven into their lives.
Tiffani says the message she got from God on the day of the accident was: “They will know that I am God.”
“And that has not let up at all,” she said.
The family continues to hear from people who are impacted by Ethan’s story.
“It wasn’t just about the accident. It was about people figuring out who Christ is to them as an individual,” Tiffani said. “God has changed the way people think about things and the way that people hang on to their families, and they pray together differently.”
Ethan said if everything he’s been through brings one person closer to God, “I would go through something like this again.”
In recent weeks, Tiffani has sent Ethan’s graduation announcements to his supporters, with the addresses she had available.
“We tried to send them out as a thank you for helping us get to this point,” Tiffani said. “Because really, I mean, this has been a rough year for all of us for sure. But we have had so much support and love that has been sent from all over this country.”
Donations have ranged from $10 to $10,000, and enabled the family to remodel their home to be handicap accessible for Ethan’s wheelchair.
Beyond the financial support, acts of kindness, gifts and notes of encouragement, the family appreciates all of the prayers.
“I don’t think we’ve ever felt alone,” Tiffani said. “For any of it.”
Even on difficult days, Ethan often finds reasons to be grateful.
“I am so thankful that Ethan has not seen the dark side of this,” Tiffani said. “He has not gotten really depressed. He hasn’t gotten angry — a lot of that he’s been able to work through.”
Ethan looks for the positive — even when he couldn’t play with his fellow Panthers in the state championship football game last fall.
“You start off by saying like, ‘Man, it sucks that I can’t play that game,’” Ethan said. “And then I think like, I’m not even supposed to be watching it.”
For many, his appearance at the title game proved more significant than the Panthers’ loss to the Star Valley Braves that day.
At Craig Hospital, Ethan also saw patients whose conditions were worse.
“‘I’m completely fine’ is what I was thinking,” Ethan said. “Just being at the hospital, you just understand that it could have been so much worse.”
Though his senior year started with a near-fatal wreck and is ending with a pandemic that has forced a modified graduation ceremony, Ethan’s sense of humor remains intact.
“It’s just funny that with graduation and everything’s getting canceled basically ... I just think in my head, ‘If Ethan Asher can’t walk the stage, nobody can,’” he joked.
Perhaps the answer to prayer will be that he’s walking by the time he graduates from college, Andy said.
“Ethan’s story is not done yet,” he said.