Brody Grebe’s phone was ringing, which was strange. The call came from his father, Jason, which was stranger.
It was 2 p.m. on Dec. 2. Brody never talks to his father before nighttime because Brody is either in class or involved with football activities at Montana State. Jason’s well aware of that, so Brody knew something urgent must be happening as he stood in bowling class staring at his ringing phone.
Brody answered and heard a bawling Jason on the other line. He could barely tell what his father was saying but eventually heard that Ricki Grebe, Jason’s wife and Brody’s stepmother, had just gotten in a four-wheeler accident and was in serious condition. She was being flown from Melstone to Billings.
Brody raced to his coaches, told them what was happening and drove the 140-plus miles to the hospital where Ricki was undergoing surgery.
Jason’s call began a hectic few days during Brody’s eventful season as a freshman defensive end at MSU. With a new quarterback, the Bobcats won three straight playoff games to clinch a berth into the Football Championship Subdivision title game.
Ricki has shown encouraging improvement, but a full recovery will take time. The on-field success has helped Brody get through this difficult month.
“It’s nice to let some steam off,” Brody told 406mtsports.com. “Just go out there and let it all loose and have some fun when a lot of the other stuff going on is not too fun.”
The Grebe family has been ranching in Melstone for 100 years, said Jason, who is Melstone’s boys basketball coach. With Brody now in college, ranch work now falls on the shoulders of Jason, Ricki and their three other sons: Bryce (a junior at Melstone), Pistol and Cash.
Ricki gave birth to Pistol, 10, and Cash, 7. Jason and his first wife divorced when Brody was about 6 years old, and Jason married Ricki about three years later. Brody, now 21, said Ricki has been a positive, supportive presence since she entered his life.
“She’s like a second mom to me,” Brody said.
Around 11 a.m. on Dec. 2, Jason and Ricki decided to move some of their cows and horses to a different part of the ranch. They jumped on their four-wheelers.
Jason went down to a coulee to try to get a horse and a colt through a gate. Ricki must’ve tried to wrangle one of the horses. Even though Ricki wasn’t riding in a rough area, something caused her to crash. Jason’s still not sure exactly what.
“She must’ve lost control. I found her, and it was hard,” Jason said through tears. “Things get real real quick.”
Ricki was unconscious and bleeding through her mouth. Jason feared she was bleeding internally. He feared she was dead.
The Grebe ranch sits about 20 miles away from the nearest highway, and cell phone service is poor, so Jason kept resetting his phone as he tried to find an area where he could call 911. After several minutes, he was able to make the call, as well as alert his mother and Ricki’s father.
An ambulance drove Ricki to Musselshell School, stopping occasionally so the EMTs could put an IV into her. A help helicopter arrived shortly thereafter and life-flighted her to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Billings. Ricki was unconscious the entire time.
“She looked beat up,” Jason said. “I thought we were going to lose her.”
Shortly after they landed in Billings, St. V’s paramedics inserted a breathing tube into Ricki’s throat. She then went into surgery, where doctors put a stent into her head to relieve pressure.
A dizzying day
Brody arrived at St. V’s and learned that Ricki suffered a traumatic brain injury. She was in surgery and still in rough shape. Jason, Brody and other family members sat in the hospital hoping to hear some positive news.
“It was the slowest couple of hours of my life,” Brody said.
As he waited, Brody opened Twitter. MSU starting quarterback Matthew McKay had entered the transfer portal, Brody learned.
Brody knew that Tommy Mellott had been getting more first-team repetitions in practice over the previous two weeks but didn’t know Mellott had been elevated to starting QB. That decision, like McKay’s to transfer, was a secret to many members of the MSU football program, especially defensive players like Brody.
“I’m like, ‘What in the hell is going on?’” Brody said. “Just one thing on top of another. I was like, ‘Wow, this can’t be happening.’”
The Bobcats were less than two days away from their FCS playoff opener against UT Martin. Grebe tried to process the McKay news and get ready for the game as he wondered if his stepmother would be OK.
“I was just sitting there waiting, not knowing anything, but at the same time trying to prepare and watch film while my head’s all messed up,” Brody said.
Long but optimistic road ahead
As Ricki’s surgery progressed, doctors informed her family members that she’d survive. Less certain was how well she’d recover and how long recovery would take.
Fortunately, Ricki didn’t break any bones or bleed internally. A sore neck was the worst of her non-brain injuries. But the brain injuries were serious enough that she was transferred to the rehab center at Craig Hospital in the Denver area after more than a week at St. V’s.
Ricki still struggles with short-term memory loss, and her long-term memory was poor in the immediate aftermath of the accident. She had trouble speaking and could barely stay balanced when she stood up, forcing her to use a wheelchair.
But the worst of Ricki’s problems are behind her. She can feed and dress herself. On Wednesday, she walked around the hospital dribbling a basketball with a specialist next to her. Doctors are optimistic she’ll make a full recovery, or at least close to it, Jason said.
Feb. 10 is her scheduled release date from Craig.
“In life, there’s roadblocks. When the roadblock comes, you’ve got to figure out how to get around it, and you’ve got to keep moving forward,” a tearful Jason said. “So I’m just not going to let it get us down. She’s doing better every day.”
Jason got about two hours of sleep a night, he estimated, in the couple weeks after Ricki’s accident. When he wasn’t in the hospital, he was back in Melstone taking care of the ranch and coaching. He missed MSU’s 26-7 win over UT Martin and the 42-19 quarterfinal win at Sam Houston so he could be with Ricki, but he was in attendance at Bobcat Stadium for the Bobcats’ 31-17 semifinal victory over South Dakota State.
Ricki gets the Melstone boys basketball team’s uniforms ready, among other contributions, and she attended all of Brody’s games this season before her accident. They were hoping she could be released in time for the FCS title game against North Dakota State on Jan. 8, but she won’t be quite ready.
Ricki cried when she realized she couldn’t make the trip to Frisco, Texas, one of many moments the Grebes have experienced since Dec. 2 that have been sad but tinged with optimism. Ricki’s realization that she can’t go to Frisco shows her mind is improving. Brody was also encouraged when they opened Christmas gifts at Craig and Ricki recognized one she bought for Jason (a cowhide pistol holster).
Phone calls, food and other gestures of support have made this tough month easier for the Grebes to manage. Jason praised the Melstone community for helping him get through some of the most difficult days of his life.
Brody, who has 5.5 sacks and 26 tackles this season, didn’t need much more motivation to play well on Jan. 8, but Ricki’s accident provided some. It’s also given him a heavy dose of perspective. As tough as it was to spend Christmas in a hospital, he recognized how much worse things could be.
“Her wrecking our four-wheeler, that could’ve happened to me or my brothers or my dad countless numbers of times,” Brody said. “You see all these people that are in this hospital that have been in here for months, that still can’t even talk. A lot of them are from car accidents.
“It just puts stuff in perspective, how easily life can be taken away.”