Russian visitor remains positive about US visit even after accident

August 20, 2012

Alisa, right, along with Lena and her sons Aspen and Jonah.

This summer was going to be a special time for Alisa Sidorenko. The 21-year-old college student was going to leave her home country, Russia, to spend three months working in the United States as part of a student exchange program.

I’ts difficult for Russian adults to get a visa to the U.S., so she knew she may never have another chance.

After researching places to stay and work, Alisa came in contact with Kathy Kvalvaag, owner of the Inn at Ludington. Alisa really wasn’t familiar with the U.S. so she wasn’t too picky where she would end up. She arrived in Ludington in early June and began working at the inn. She stayed with Kathy’s daughter and son-in-law Lena and Daniel Bluestein, along with their two children Aspen and Jonah, in their North Rowe Street home.

The blue-eyed, blond Russian enjoyed going to the beach and walking and riding her bicycle around town. She would get up early and jog several miles before putting in a 12 hour day at the inn. She kept an upbeat attitude and really enjoyed being in America, especially Ludington, Michigan.

Then, on July 8, just after midnight, everything changed. Alisa would still have memories of her trip, but they would be much more dramatic.

She was riding her bicycle home after a shopping trip to Wal-Mart and that’s when it happened. According to a sheriff’s office report, she was riding her bicycle between the white line (line of fog) and the curb near the Mason County Fairgrounds when she was struck by a tow truck driven by James Brynelsen.

Mr. Brynelsen told Deputy Jeremy King that he did not see Alisa until after he hit her. She was wearing blue jeans, a tan shirt and had a black pack around her shoulders covering part of her back when the crash occurred. King could not locate the red rear reflector that most bicycles have on them. Brynelsen turned around and called 911 immediately. No citations were issued and no person was found at fault.

Alisa was transported to Memorial Medical Center by ambulance. After being examined by the emergency department staff, she was then transferred to Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids by helicopter. The extent of her injuries were far worse than they appeared.
She spent eight days in the hospital and then three weeks at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Center. She is now back at the Bluestein home where she has been undergoing physical therapy several times a week. She is expected to walk again sometime in the fall. Naturally, her visa has been extended.

“I am very thankful to all the people who have helped me,” Alisa says, sitting in her wheelchair in a first floor room converted from a library to a bedroom. “I’m in a good place here, in this house with the Bluesteins. It’s a miracle.”

Lena says through everything Alisa has been through she has kept a positive attitude.
Alisa doesn’t want to make negative comparisons between her home country and the United States. But, she does know her treatment in the U.S. is much better than what she would have gotten if she had been sent home.

“There isn’t a lot of access for the handicap,” she says. “It would not have been possible for me to get around my school in a wheelchair. You don’t see a lot of disabled people in Russia. They just don’t leave their homes.”

Alisa lives and attends university in Yekaterinburg in central Russia. The weather there is similar to western Michigan but that’s about the only thing similar.

“I like this place. I like it now and I liked it before the accident,” she says. “I like the beach and the people here are very nice, very friendly. Everyone says hello and everyone will talk to you. That was new to me. In Russia, people only say hello to you if they know you. It’s not just because I live in a big city, either. It’s just very different in Russia.

“In Russia, the apartments are gray everywhere. Here every house has its own features.”

When she returns to Russia Alisa will have a unique story to tell her friends and family. She will not only talk about the wonderful, friendly people she met here but also about the health care she received. She’s only one person but her story is another positive step to understanding and tolerance this world needs.

Story and photo by Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

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