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Family of beloved radio host talk about her life, accident that ended it

GRAND FORKS – Kerri Drees loved the music of Christian singer Natalie Grant. She often played Grant’s song “Held” when she was on air at Your QFM in Grand Forks, where she’d been the uniquely high-spirited radio voice we’ve loved since January 2011.

Among “Held’s” lyrics: “This is what it means to be held, how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive. This is what it is to be loved and to know that the promise was – when everything fell – we’d be held.”

Since Monday, Kerri’s family has been “Held,” not only by God but by literally hundreds of people.

“I have felt the prayers and that’s pretty much how I’m getting through this,” said Steve Drees, Kerri’s husband. “There are mornings when it feels real and mornings when it can’t be true. Monday, I pretended to be strong for everyone. Explaining over and over was tough. I went home and collapsed. When I woke up I thought maybe it was a bad nightmare and everything would be OK, but it wasn’t.”

In Jesus’ arms

Steve and Kerri arrived at Altru Hospital at 5:45 a.m. Monday for her to have a 30- to 45-minute procedure to remove the Lap-Band she’d had since 2007. Surgery was set for 7:45 a.m. and before Kerri was rolled away, she kissed Steve and said, “I love you.” He, thinking 17 years together was not nearly enough told her, “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

It was not to be as complications during surgery claimed Kerri’s life.

“She went to sleep in a hospital bed and woke up in the arms of Jesus,” said Beth Waldeck, Kerri’s co-worker at Your QFM.

There are those who want to place blame, Steve said, “and I don’t. Kerri wasn’t the type to blame. Every operation has inherent risk and every human being is different. I have no ill will. It’s easier for me not to hold ill will knowing Kerri had a living and vibrant faith.”

I was blessed to have Steve, his stepdaughter, Tanisha Krznarich (born to Kerri), and Tanisha’s husband, Steve Krznarich, in my home Tuesday afternoon.

Tanisha, 27, struggles with what took place at the hospital.

“I have a huge hole in my heart,” she said as her husband held her. “I don’t even have words yet. I just miss her presence, and I don’t know how I’m going to live without her. She was a wonderful woman.”

Steve and Kerri Drees’ daughter Savanna, 15, was on her way to Bible camp in Grand Rapids, Minn., when she was summoned home. She later asked her dad if she could go back to camp. He said, “yes.”

“First,” Steve said, “Kerri would want her to be at Bible camp. And second, I’m going to do whatever I need to do to help Savanna work through this. If she needs to go to Bible camp, she’ll go. Anything outdoors she likes to do.”

Muddled and blurred are Steve’s recollections of Monday morning.

About 45 minutes after the surgery was to have started, Steve went to Altru’s information desk for an update. “The gal said the only information they had was that the first incision was made 41 minutes ago,” he said. “So I went back and sat down and was looking at a hot rod magazine to pass the time.”

About 10 minutes later two staff members “in scrubs came and asked to talk to me,” Steve continued. “It was obvious they didn’t want to talk to me in the main waiting area, so my heart sank. I followed them back to the chapel area, where I met with them and the chaplain. The two staff members were an anesthesiologist and a surgical nurse. The anesthesiologist told me there were complications. Kerri had lost a lot of blood and her heart had stopped twice. He assured me they had several people working to stabilize her but it didn’t look good.”

Steve was later told that Kerri’s aorta had been nicked during the first incision.

The memories grow even fuzzier.

“I see a gap in my logs on my cellphone between 9:20 a.m. and 9:27 a.m.,” Steve said. “I think this is when I met with the surgeon. He told me what had happened so far, that her bleeding had been stopped and they were still working to try to stabilize her.”

There’s also a gap in calls on Steve’s phone between 9:36 a.m. and 9:49 a.m.

“I think that was the time I was told she didn’t make it,” Steve said. “I do not recall who told me that. I think it was the chaplain, but I’m not sure. I cannot come up with words to describe how I felt at that time. I know that I summoned all the strength I could and continued to reach out to people that I could recall needed to know.”

Her reach

“In a crowd of a thousand people, you could always find her,” son-in-law Steve said. “You could always hear her. It could be crowded but you knew where she was. In a grocery store she knew everybody. There was no such thing as a quick trip. Everyone felt comfortable around her.”

Kerri had the special gift of making “everyone in the room feel they were the most important,” husband Steve added. “We would be lying in bed and she’d say, ‘Oh, I made this friend,’ and she’d tell me their whole life story. Then she’d say, ‘This is why you need to meet them.’ It’s been overwhelming to understand how far her reach was and how deep. I don’t think anyone met Kerri and walked away thinking, ‘She’s nobody.’ They were changed and that helps.”

A veteran of Christian radio, Kerri began working in January 2011 at QFM, which has offices in Fosston, Minn., and Bemidji, Minn. She had previously worked at radio station Power 92 in Fargo.

She is a Detroit Lakes, Minn., native.

Kerri’s funeral is at 1 p.m. Saturday in Hope Evangelical Covenant Church, 1601 17th Ave. S. Visitation is from 11 a.m. until time of service. People are welcome to bring a cross to place at Kerri’s casket. The family requests no flowers. Donations may be made to Shine the Light Inc., parent company of Your QFM, or Circle of Friends Humane Society.

People who knew and loved Kerri, and they are legion, saw a “force” behind her, a “presence,” within her. Without a doubt, it was the Holy Spirit. On this earth and now in heaven, Kerri is “Held.”

Naomi Dunavan | Forum News Service

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