90s hip-hop blared in her sister’s room, parents outside, for Ella Dorner, the day was uneventful. Then large clunk, a bang. Coming down the stairs, all her older sister, Hannah Dorner, saw was her younger sister laying at the bottom- no longer did anyone hear the blare of 90s music, all attention was on Dorner’s quiet sobs.
Seven years ago Dorner was an average high school girl, the type who would attend football games with her friends, make game day tees with the accidental wrong graduation year on the back, and wear makeup- just like any girl would. This was the day-to-day. However, on one peculiar afternoon seven years ago, Dorner’s identity became foreign to her, along with her friends and family, and largely her existence. Everything that exists to others on the daily no longer had identities.
A fall down the stairs, a Grand Mal seizure, some testing, and a hospital stay later, Dorner had been rebirthed- literally.
Dorner explained, ”I woke up and I looked at my arms, and I could move them without any machines. It freaked me out!”
Worrisome as it may sound, even cringy, but this was the reality Dorner faced upon waking up in a life she never recalled living for 16 years.
“I was so amazed by my body and when I would think I didn’t know if people could hear me or not.” -Ella Dorner
“I was so amazed by my body and when I would think I didn’t know if people could hear me or not,” Dorner added.
Skills we take for granted on a daily basis, skills a simple as even thoughts became a foreign concept. This inability to decipher reality from fiction was one of the first of many battles Dorner met.
Setting up a tent in her new home, cuddling with her ‘security blanket’- Oodles the teddy bear and watching the “big rectangle box with people in it” had become Dorner’s new reality- where she felt safe.
In the tent, Dorner said,” I had my parent’s ID’s, like trading cards of people I knew.”
Brandi Jewett from The Grand Forks Herald said, “There the teenager slept, learned and slowly regained her memory in what she felt was a safe space, though sometimes sleep offered little comfort or escape from the strange world around her.”
Listening to Dorner, although she speaks no differently than others, Dorner is still missing an expanse of memories.
“I don’t recall anything from before sixth grade, and anything from then leading up to my injury is very scattered,” said Dorner.
However, doctors estimated 70 percent of her memory would return within nine years, and being nearly seven in, Dorner still picks up on things here and there.
As it largely did in high school, piece by piece, day by day, light is invading Dorner’s once black and white life.
“I just found out it’s ‘coral reef’ not ‘coral wreath.’ My entire life feels like a lie.” -Ella Dorner, Facebook
A recent Facebook post by Dorner reads, “I just found out it’s ‘coral reef’ not ‘coral wreath.’ My entire life feels like a lie.”
Dorner laughed, “I don’t know how many times I have said coral wreath, nobody ever corrected me!”
Humorous as she is, any audience will smile. With her easygoing traits, Dorner shows perseverance is key in growing and moving on from any possible situation.
Her mother, Jules Dorner, in a report with the Grand Forks Herald said, “She’ll walk into a room and all of a sudden everybody is happy, that was the hardest thing to think as a parent: ‘Will I lose the child that I raised? And I didn’t.”
It is easy nowadays for those involved in tragedy to feel a victim and bank on loss, however Dorner has grown.
“I lost 16 years but I’m going hard on seven. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend what happened to me,” Dorner remarked.
Now a graduated senior of UND, an author, speaker and survivor, Dorner has the bar set high for herself. From motivational speaking to pursuing her passion in writing, Dorner is determined to bring her reflection of the good in this life to others.
Humorously, Dorner said, “Being in a specific spot and talking to specific people is just really… see I forget, my brain does this…really rewarding! That’s the word. Really rewarding.”
“Being in a specific spot and talking to specific people is just really… see I forget, my brain does this…really rewarding! That’s the word. Really rewarding.” -Ella Dorner
After working with her mentor Mark Lindquist, whom she credits with helping her hit the ground running, Dorner has had to opportunity to speak at businesses, schools and even conferences. In addition to speaking, Dorner’s path as a young author has brought her to release a book, with a second, Born at 16, a rawer version of her journey, on its way.
Yes, the dreadful day that 90s hip hop blared and a clunk resonated throughout the Dorner household may be considered a loss to some, but to Dorner, it has been a point of growth, something that makes her unique, and she may have not been the person she is today had it not had happened.
“Motivational speaking is based on who I am speaking to…I think it is incredible that we as humans can do anything we want. You could go outside and light a car on fire if you really wanted to, but realizing the good brought me to who I am now,” said Dorner.