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Volunteers build home big enough to fit wheelchair, girl's spirit

Brynn Duncan spends a moment of solitude in her bedroom at her new north Moorhead home. Brynn is adjusting to living life in a wheelchair after suffering spinal injuries from an automobile accident. David Samson / The Forum

Dixie Duncan gasps as her 8-year-old daughter, Brynn Duncan, comes skidding to a stop on her specially adapted bike.

"I'm fine," Brynn says, laughing.

"She likes to live on the edge," Dixie said. "I don't want to be overly protective. ... I don't think I hover any more than I did before."

Less than a year after Brynn suffered severe spinal cord injuries in an automobile accident in Fergus Falls, Minn., the Moorhead family is still adjusting to the changes that come with life in a wheelchair.

"She's extremely active and always has been," Dixie said. "My original concern was that being confined to a wheelchair would be so hard for her, but it hasn't slowed her down a bit."

Even before Brynn came home from the hospital, her uncle and aunt, Tim and Brenda Nottestad of Bismarck, were considering how to accommodate the Duncans' home to a wheelchair.

"When I was in the hospital (with Brynn), I didn't think about it," Dixie said.

"They kind of looked around and said, 'How is she going to get around in this house?' "

After considering the narrow width of the hallways and lack of space to expand, the Duncans decided the best option was to build a new home.

Dee Myers, a local contractor who attends the Duncans' church, found other contractors and businesses to help with the project.

"(Myers) had a dream, and he thought that if he built it they would come, and they did," Dixie said.

Working through the winter, dozens of volunteers helped build the new home in north Moorhead.

"I know we shoveled out the house more than once," Tim Nottestad said.

The Duncans moved into the house in April.

"I still pinch myself. It's just amazing," Dixie said.

The family is hosting an appreciation lunch today for the more than 40 contractors and businesses that helped.

In the old house, Brynn brushed her teeth in the hallway because her chair didn't fit through the doorway.

In the new house, the shower is large enough for Brynn to wheel her chair in and scoot onto a bench, allowing her independence she didn't have before.

"I took my first shower yesterday," Brynn said this past Thursday.

Dixie and her husband Cody encourage the already-independent Brynn to do as much as she can on her own.

"We don't look at things as you can't do something," Dixie said. "It's more, you can do it, you just have to do it differently."

Dixie treats Brynn the same as her four other daughters and expects her to do chores, like making her bed and washing the dishes.

"She has the same attitude as before," Dixie said. "She didn't like doing them then, and she doesn't like doing them now."

On top of regular occupational and physical therapy, Brynn attends a horse camp, plays on a baseball team and participates in wheelchair track meets through Hope Inc., a program for children with disabilities.

Brynn underwent several surgeries following the accident and has one more scheduled next summer to remove the rods her in back.

Dixie fought for tougher child restraint laws in Minnesota, which passed in May.

Brynn still struggles at times with not being able to walk. Watching classmates on the playground is sometimes hard, Dixie said.

"Every season has been a new set of challenges of something she used to do," Dixie said. "There will always be challenges, but she's been so good about overcoming them."