Tanner’s Fight: 11-year-old takes on new challenges after near-fatal accident

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IOWA COUNTY (WKOW) — Becki Kleist was at work the morning of April 12, 2018 when she got a phone call from one of her daughters that would change her life.

“They called me in a panic,” she said. “All I got out of the conversation was ‘Tanner, cows, come home.'”

Her only son, Tanner, had been out in the pasture on their farm trying to work with the beef cows.

“(He) was trying to do what the big guys do, what he sees the big guys do,” said Becki Kleist. “And wasn’t quite big enough.”

He was trampled by almost 10 cows and his 16-year-old sister jumped in to save him. When Kleist got home, they knew they had to get him to a hospital fast.

He had several internal injuries, including a major injury to his liver. Doctors told his family later that summer that it was split open “like a book” and a CT scan showed that it looked like it had been “obliterated.”

At one point during his journey to the hospital, his heart stopped.

“We were just hoping he was gonna make it through because it didn’t sound good,” said Brian Kleist, Tanner’s father.

After several surgeries, Tanner took a turn for the better. A week after the surgeries, he was able to leave the American Family Children’s Hospital ICU. A few days after that, he was already taking physical therapy to re-learn how to walk.

“Kids are resilient, but I’m thinking Tanner is more resilient than the average child,” said Becki Kleist.

Tanner told 27 News that he fought hard. And he said he fought that hard because he knew he had something to fight for.

“To go home,” he said.

Besides another surgery in the summer of 2018, he’s stayed at home. His mother home schooled him last year, as she had been doing previously. But this school year is the first time Tanner has stepped back into a classroom. But this classroom is virtual, through the Wisconsin Virtual Academy.

“Putting in the virtual school was more of a decision that he needed some additional help that I just didn’t think I was qualified enough to give him,” said Becki Kleist.

Tanner has some slight brain damage from the accident, but the Kleists said it hasn’t impacted him more than having to go through his lessons a few extra times. He’s doing his best, and Tanner said he’s enjoying it. He’s particularly intrigued by the fact that he gets to talk on a microphone and use the webcam for the class.

“You can see the other person and the other person can see you,” he said. “So far it’s good. I made a lot of new friends and teachers in there.”

His accident also led to a new support group. Becki Kleist came across St. Louis-based “Tiny Superheroes” on Facebook. It’s a group that empowers children who are overcoming a disability or battling illness.

“He’s gotta do missions to earn patches,” said Becki. “The patches are called their super powers.”

Tanner already has quite a few super powers, and a perk of the program is that his sisters get to participate alongside him as his sidekicks.

He’s still a farm kid at heart, and loves going up on the tractor with his dad. He’s also getting into cars, a fact he always lets his mom know when they’re in the car.

“He’ll holler “Hey, there’s a Tesla!’, and I’ll say ‘Where?'” Becki Kleist said.

Thinking back over the past year, the Kleist family just feels joy that Tanner is still here.

“There’s things that I look back now, and look at him, and remember what he looked like then, and think of how far he’s come,” said Becki Kleist.

It’s been hard getting back to normal for Tanner, but he’s strong.

In his words: “I’m a fighter.”

Sara Maslar-Donar

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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