ST. PETER — Helen Baumgartner settled in to a cozy stuffed chair placed near sunny dining room windows and directly across from the Steinway and Baldwin she and her husband use to practice piano duets.
Paul Baumgartner was nearby Saturday morning as Helen happily shared their wonderful news — a physician’s all-clear to remain at home. Except for a few “day passes” to the couple’s St. Peter town house, Helen had been staying at a care facility in Le Center.
She is recovering from a skull fracture she suffered last month. Hennepin County Medical Center's trauma unit treated Helen for cranial bleeding that resulted after a van knocked her down Dec. 9.
Helen remembers standing next to a parked car on Third Street in St. Peter and seeing headlights coming toward her. “Then I must have blacked out."
Friday she met with a neurologist in Minneapolis who was pleased with the prognosis and said no follow-up visits were necessary.
Several months before Helen's injury, the Baumgartners had begun preparing for a series of public performances. They are faculty emeriti of the Department of Music at Gustavus Adolphus College.
Last year, they played at Montgomery Arts and Heritage Center, First Lutheran Church in Bemidji, Gustavus Adolphus College and the GSR Festival in Mankato.
An Arts Center of Saint Peter concert remained on their slate. After the accident, practicing for that show soon became part of Helen’s rehab.
"Both the physical and occupational therapists say this activity is good,” Helen said.
A keyboard was one of her first requests when she stayed at Central Health Care.
"Paul and she played for the Christmas party," said Activity Director Tammy Plonsky. "They brought smiles to patients' faces and people sang along."
Also a violinist, Helen is a member of the Mankato Symphony Orchestra. Civic involvement in organizations such as the League of Women Voters and participation in a church choir and a hand bell group have been a benefit to her mental health.
There may be more improvements in her condition, but no deterioration is expected. The brain injury has, however, taken a toll. She now deals with periods of fatigue and residual hearing loss. Helen, who has faced other medical ordeals throughout her 82 years, joked about being in “my third cat's life.”
As a gift on her 6th birthday, Helen was given piano lessons. By the time she was a senior at Smith College, her piano skills were evident. Helen was chosen by the college to be a soloist during a Boston Pops performance. Arthur Fiedler was the conductor.
Her years of disciplined music training have provided Helen’s arms with strength and mobility.
Dr. Elizabeth Osborne, the Baumgartners' primary care giver, described the St. Peter musician's move forward by performing Friday's concert as a message of hope for others.
"Many times, when a person has gone through an illness or has suffered trauma, there is a period of feeling hopeless and helpless. They wonder, 'Can I still do what I used to do?'" said the St. Peter Mayo Clinic Health System doctor.
Arts Center Director Ann Fee said the center booked the duo's concert months ago but held back on publicity while awaiting the Baumgartners' decision in light of the accident. Fee was delighted with the couple’s announcement they will perform as planned.
"I've been telling everyone (about the concert). It's so inspirational — considering the accident and what she's been through," Fee said.
The Baumgartners, who are longtime supporters of the Arts Center, will be seated at a Yahama Friday night. The couple helped fund the purchase of the piano, which was once played at the organization's original building. After the 1998 St. Peter tornado, the piano was moved to the arts center's current location.
The duo will play Brahms, Dvorak and Janacek selections written for four hands. Helen said they chose Moravian, Hungarian and Slavonic dances that are very accessible to the general public. The audience will find them toe-tapping, she said.
"Whatever happens, we are going to have fun,” Helen said.