Sometimes, things happen for a reason. No one knows this better than Julie and Jed Klink of Wheaton, college sweethearts reunited in the wake of a tragic accident.
Growing up together in the small town of Oxford, Ohio, Julie Otto first met Jed Klink in junior high. A year older, Jed hung out with the same crowd as Julie's older sister, Jennifer. By the time they were in high school, he had become a familiar face in the Otto household.
After high school, Jed attended
Their platonic relationship took a romantic turn the summer of 1990, when both were taking classes on campus. Unbeknownst to each other, they had landed jobs as extras on the set of the
Spotting Jed in that sea of movie-set extras sparked a connection for Julie, who says, "It was both the fact that he was a familiar face, and I thought he was gorgeous!"
For the more reserved Jed, the opportunity was a long time coming. "I always thought she was pretty but was intimidated to initiate discussions with her," he said. "The movie provided the perfect vehicle for me to really get to know her."
The pair ended up dating for the rest of the summer.
Still, when classes resumed that fall, Jed went ahead with his plans to study abroad in Luxembourg.
But, as Julie puts it, "I was smitten, and I definitely didn't want him to leave."
By the time he returned a year later, both were dating other people. Indeed, over the next several years their paths rarely crossed. In 1996, Julie married the man she had been dating in college and moved to Virginia. Jed moved to Chicago and married in 1998.
Three years later, tragedy struck while Jed and his wife, Laura, were visiting friends in Ohio. Passengers in an SUV that was involved in an accident, both suffered broken necks. Laura did not survive.
Doctors warned Jed's parents that the severity of his spinal cord injury would render him a quadriplegic. Deciding to postpone their retirement, they set out to prove the doctors wrong and remained with Jed throughout his grueling rehabilitation, a recovery that came in phases.
Jed remained hospitalized for six months before moving back to Chicago with his parents for a yearlong rehabilitation at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village. This was followed by daily home-based rehab. He slowly built up his strength and stamina, defying the original diagnosis but still left with weakness on his right side. Jed has limited use of his right hand and right arm, and exposure to cold and stress can impede his ability to walk.
As he defied the doctors' prognosis, Jed mourned not only his wife's passing but also his former physically active self.
Throughout this time, Julie was dealing with a different type of crisis. Her marriage was deteriorating, and she says, "It didn't help that I've always loved kids and really wanted a family. We tried for years, but it never happened."
After her divorce in 2004, Julie returned to Ohio. She knew about Jed's accident and thought about him. "I wondered periodically where he was and if he was still in a wheelchair or if he had recovered."
Several months later, she came across a picture of herself and Jed. A few weeks after, that she found a newspaper article about "Little Man Tate," as well as a ticket stub from the movie. The discoveries spurred her to action.
"I decided that I needed to find Jed again," she said. "I asked a mutual friend, who gave me what he thought was Jed's current email address, but I didn't get the courage to email him for another few weeks."
She even remembers the date she sent it: April 11, 2005.
It took Jed three days to respond.
In the years since his accident, he had receded into a familiar if stifling routine. His days consisted of being stretched twice a day and going to work in between, all the while in constant pain.
"Not an ideal existence," Jed figured. "But doable."
Julie's email was a wake-up call. "I came to the conclusion that being content in life meant being content in a shell, and that's not where I wanted to spend the rest of my life."
He answered her email with a phone call, which lasted three hours. Their calls continued over the next couple of weeks, lasting for hours each night. In late April, Julie made the trek to Chicago.
Smiling, she recalls, "I'll never forget the butterflies in my stomach as I drew up to the front of his building and I saw him again for the first time in over a decade. When I laid eyes on him, I felt like I had come home."
Jed had a similar reaction. "Julie was just as pretty as ever. When I saw her again, I knew I was ready to participate in life again."
Jed proposed on Julie's second visit in May. They married later that year on the Miami of Ohio campus in the same chapel where Julie's parents were married. The following June, they welcomed their "surprise honeymoon souvenir," daughter Bella Rose. Two years later, son Jonah was born.
What would have happened if Julie hadn't sent the email? Or Jed hadn't had the courage to call her back?
"You have to listen to your inner voice," Julie says. "Don't be afraid to put yourself out there or be afraid of what might be, because you'll never know how good it can be."