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Video: Injured blogger inspires support

TODAY contributor
updated 9/9/2008 10:25:57 AM ET 2008-09-09T14:25:57

In the cluttered landscape of “mommy blogs,” Stephanie Nielson stood out: a mother of four young children who focused on the joys of motherhood instead of its travails. When she was severely injured in a plane crash, the readers she’d inspired rallied to her aid, determined to help her as she had helped them.

“We’ve formed a whole new community, a community of complete strangers who all care about one thing – in this case, one family – who’s in need,” Stephanie’s sister, Courtney Kendrick, told TODAY’s Matt Lauer on Tuesday.

Kendrick and three of her siblings joined Lauer from Provo, Utah, which has become the hub of what is now an international network of family and friends. The group, bound by Stephanie’s simple and joyful blog, formed after the 27-year-old mom and her husband, Christian, 29, were critically injured and severely burned on Aug. 16 in a small-plane crash in eastern Arizona that took the life of flight instructor Doug Kinneard.

Making motherhood fun
People around the world had already come to know the Nielsons and their four children — Claire, 6, Jane, 5, Oliver, 3, and Nicholas, 2 — through Stephanie’s blog, the NieNie Dialogues. Stephanie started it several years ago to keep her seven siblings and large extended family informed while she and Christian and the kids were living in New Jersey.

Unlike many “mommy blogs” that focus on the difficulties of motherhood, Stephanie Nielson focused on its joys. To her, being a mom is the highest calling possible, and she brought a joy and positive attitude to that calling that struck a chord with people she had never met.

“I found many ideas of how to make my motherhood experience happier and more fun,” one reader and friend, Wendy Whitacre, told NBC News.

“She never masked the fact that motherhood is very difficult sometimes, and she had good days and bad days,” Stephanie’s brother, Christopher Clark, told Lauer. “What she represented to a lot of people is the positive impact of motherhood and what motherhood can be for so many people. I think that’s what people responded to.”

Long recovery ahead
Stephanie was burned over 83 percent of her body in the accident. She is in a medically induced coma and, while doing as well as can be expected, is given a 60 to 70 percent chance of survival. Christian suffered burns over 35 percent of his body and, while heavily medicated against the pain, is expected to recover.

Stephanie Nielson's siblings Christopher Clark, Courtney Kendrick, Page Checketts and Lucy Beesley.

“He is making forward progress, doing really well,” Page Checketts, another of Stephanie’s sisters, said of Christian Nielson. “He’s still in critical condition. We’re hoping within a week maybe, he’ll be able to talk with us.”

Stephanie, Checketts continued, is in graver condition. “Her body is doing as well as it possibly can. We’re in for a long, long time of recovery.”

Checketts, who has an infant of her own, is caring for the three eldest Nielson children, who only know that their parents were injured and are in the hospital getting better. Her sister, Lucy Beesley, who has been unable to have a child of her own, is caring for the baby, Nicholas.

They all have a lot of people they’ve never met helping them get through it.

Widening support
After the accident, Kendrick decided to post updates on her sister and brother-in-law on the NieNie Dialogues. The idea was just to keep family and friends informed. Instead, it turned into an international support group.

Stephanie and Christian Nielson and their four children.

As word of the accident spread around the Internet, visitors to the blog jumped from about 1,000 a day to as many as 20,000. They came for updates on the Nielsons’ condition and stayed to see how they could help.

In just three weeks, the hospital bills for the Nielsons have already topped $2 million and will continue to mount; their insurance pays the first $1 million. Their family has no illusions about paying all of those bills, but they did hope to raise some money for the children’s care and for their future.

An online auction started by one NieNie Dialogues fan morphed into more than 350 auctions. The $1,000 the family felt might be raised grew to as much as $100,000. “I had absolutely no idea it would turn into this,” Kendrick told Lauer. “I get a lot of questions about how they’re doing medically. I get a lot of questions about how the children are doing. Some people even want to know how the family dog is.”

Christian and Stephanie Nielson.

Accentuating the positive
Stephanie’s optimistic attitude seems to be a family trait. All four of her siblings who appeared on TODAY spoke of how well things are going and how wonderful it’s been to discover that so many people care.

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Kendrick said caring for her sister’s three oldest children has been a joy. “We spend most of our days together,” she said. “We always have dinner together. They are doing remarkably well. It’s a testament to how many people are praying for us.”

Beesley added that she’s felt blessed to be able to care for Nicholas.

“I don’t have any children, so it’s a definite gift that I’m able to wake up and see him every day and spend my whole day with him,” she told Lauer. “It’s such a joy in my life.”

“We knew there were a lot of people reading Stephanie’s blog, and there were a lot of people who enjoyed it,” Clark added. “But since the accident, the amount of people who have come forward with love and support and offers of help has just been overwhelming for us. It’s really amazing for us to see this kind of response from people we don’t even know.”

For information about the recovery fund for Stephanie and Christian Nielson, visit nieniedialogues.com.

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