Nancy Johnson Allen has already tested the skills she got from parenting Walla Walla Community College roommate and amnesia victim Kayla Hutcheson.
Now a Missoula, Mont., resident, Allen and her husband run a marketing business from their home while raising daughter Sapphire, 15 months old.
She credits her Walla Walla experience with the success of both ventures, Allen said. “Coach Hazeltine said telling someone’s story can awaken parts in people they didn’t know was there.”
The early maturity Allen, 23, was forced into ended up blossoming into a passion for motivational speaking and helping people be healthy and fulfilled, she explained.
Not without a toll, however. “When Kayla got injured there were these roles that needed to be filled. What happened was Jill Haney knew Kayla from before and she stepped into the mother role. Jaimie was the sibling, the best friend. Kayla needed a buddy and that’s what Jaimie did.”
The part leftover was the father figure, the one who would tell Hutcheson what she needed to hear, not what she wanted to hear,” Allen said. “It wasn’t the fun role.”
It affected the dynamics of the living situation and caused a lot of tension, she said. “I had a hard time being the bad guy but I was willing to do it.”
Then came the weekend Hutcheson and Allen were alone, as the others went elsewhere. By then it was about six weeks past the accident and Hutcheson was still very much the toddler, Allen said. “Kayla loved eating cookies and people kept bringing those. We had a lot of sweets, people didn’t know what else to do, and she was gaining weight. The doctor said she had to walk every day.”
But Hutcheson didn’t want to walk.
That’s the day Allen limited her roommate to two cookies and made her earn them with a walk to Main Street and back, she recalled. “She wouldn’t even look at me, she was so mad. It was like walking a dog.”
Hutcheson later told the others, “‘I don’t like her. She made me walk,’” Allen said. “It was really sad.”
Things were never the same, according to Allen. “We really did work together as a family unit, but I think we had different expectations of what Kayla would be like when she recovered. It was funny ... she called me ‘Dad’ before the accident, then that became my role.”
Allen had planned not to return to WWCC for a second year, she said, but changed her mind. “When I saw how the team all came together for another human being, I knew I had to be part of it.”
She can accept the way the roommate relationships ended up, Allen said. She knows the others would be there for her if she really needed them, and has hope they can be close again some day. “But if that doesn’t happen, I have a lot of peace about that.”
On some level, she believes Hutcheson went through her experience for the benefit of others, Allen said. In her own life, her marriage and baby are an illustration. “I had anticipated getting married at 25 or 26, and being a mom a few years after that.”
When she met her future husband after leaving Walla Walla, however, Allen understood life changes too fast to miss a chance on tasting its richness, she said.