EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS)– Elisabeth Ostendorf and Sebastian Kuhlgert came from Germany to East Lansing to study photosynthesis at Michigan State University back in 2012.
The two came as boyfriend and girlfriend, but now they just celebrated their three-year wedding anniversary. “We talked about it for a long time, but we never really followed through with it,” says Sebastian.
Those plans had to be put on hold.
October 10th, 2014, a driver in a Michigan State University vehicle hit Elisabeth while she was walking from her laboratory.
“Elisabeth walked across the pedestrian walkway, as the truck was backing up, the truck did not see Elisabeth and she saw the truck at the very last second and attempted to get out of the way and the truck ran her over going backwards. As best we can tell, the left rear wheels of the truck ran over her skull,” said George Sinas, Elisabeth’s attorney.
Due to the severity of her injuries, doctors had their doubts about if she would survive.
Dr. Lynn Munoz, a trauma surgeon at Sparrow Hospital testified in court a few years ago and said “I didn’t think she’d live, I honestly didn’t think she would make it through the night when she was admitted.”
This was just the beginning of Elisabeth’s fight for her life.
“Elisabeth sustained a severe traumatic brain injury and because of that injury she actually had a stroke in her brain stem which caused her to have what’s called locked-in syndrome, and it’s a condition where ultimately an individual is conscious and aware of what’s going on cognitively, they’re in tack but physically they are basically paralyzed within their body, they are locked-in,” said Amanda Carr, Elisabeth’s former occupational therapist at Origami Rehabilitation.
For two months while she recovered at the hospital, Sebastian was there.
“He was with her every day… in the hospital he would be at her bedside, speaking to her and she was in a coma, but he never let up,” said George Sinas.
With no family in America, Sebastian was the only one who could look after Elisabeth.
“We filed a petition with the probate court to get Sebastian appointed as her guardian meaning that he would be in charge of making decisions of her person,” says attorney David Brake.
A judge granted that petition in December 2014, the same month Elisabeth moved to Origami Rehabilitation in Mason.
“She was not able to walk, talk, eat, there was no communication that she was able to provide other than the blinking of her eyes,” remarked Amanda Carr, Elisabeth’s former occupational therapist.
The scientist would have to relearn everyday tasks. From talking, eating, and moving on her own, but eventually, tasks got easier.
“The odds are fairly low with significant recovery, but she really defied those odds”, continues Carr.
Sebastian stayed with Elisabeth, still by her side. “He was next to her every step of the way”, said Carr.
Sebastian had to stay strong for the woman with an eternal amount of strength.
Elisabeth was asked how she kept fighting and what kept her fighting…”I acknowledged that I could get better, if I knew that I couldn’t get better, I think I wouldn’t have tried to get better”, said Elisabeth.
After 4 years at Origami, those marriage plans came up again. The two wanted to tie the knot, but there was one little tangle.
“So since I’m Elisabeth’s appointed guardian, I would have to basically give permission to myself, so we could get married”, said Sebastian.
Attorney David Brake, helped the two become one. The only time in 36 years of practice that Brake says he had to get a petition to marry.
” I determined we better get court approval on that because this is such an unusual circumstance,” said Brake.
Their story ended up in a courtroom once again and finally, the judge called up their case.
“He turned to Sebastian and Elisabeth and said well I have two questions and the same two questions for both of you so I’m going to start with you Sebastian, my first question is do you love Elisabeth and secondly do you want to be married to her? Sebastian said yes I do,” said Brake.
Elisabeth was asked the same two questions. “I said he’s okay,” Elisabeth said.
“It was a good question, it begged for a joke,” Sebastian added as they both laughed.
With two yeses…” he said petition granted! The two of you may get married and at that point, the whole courtroom burst into applause, never seen that happen before,” said Brake.
July 16th, 2018, the two got hitched at the 55th district court. A celebration for their future life together and the fight Elisabeth put up to keep hers.
“I’m glad that I was able to help her and that she accepted my help,” Sebastian said.
“It was nice that you had my back, all the time,” Elisabeth said…”that I had your back all the time, that was nice?” Sebastian answered, “Yeah that was nice,” Elisabeth said.
As they started their lives as husband and wife, a legal battle continued in court over what compensation Elisabeth is entitled to.
“I can’t recall a case that was as legally complicated as this one… we knew that Elizabeth’s future depended on what happened here,” said George Sinas.
Elisabeth was just awarded money in November of 2020 after a six-year legal battle.