After surviving rare cancer and horrific crash, Minneapolis woman returns to thank caregivers

People pose for a photo
Anya Magnuson (center) poses for a photo with paramedics Allan Oyaas (left) and Ryan Doheny inside a physical therapy room at Hennepin County Medical Center on Monday in Minneapolis. The two paramedics helped save Magnuson's life after she was hit by a car a year ago.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

It’s been one year since Anya Magnuson was struck by a vehicle as she crossed a street in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood.

The 24-year-old south Minneapolis resident — who’s also endured a lengthy battle with a rare form of cancer — was thrown 45 feet and suffered a traumatic brain injury and multiple major fractures throughout her body. She was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center and had the lowest coma score possible, her mother Colleen Kelly recalled.

After 16 days on a ventilator, two months in the hospital and nearly a year of occupational, physical and speech therapy, Magnuson returned Monday to thank some of the people who saved her life and have helped in her ongoing recovery.

Stepping back into her former physical therapy facility, Magnuson exchanged pleasantries with Hennepin EMS paramedics Ryan Doheny and Allan Oyaas — and then she got to the point, in talking about the night of the crash.

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Two person great each other
Anya Magnuson and paramedic Allan Oyaas greet each other inside a physical therapy room at Hennepin County Medical Center on Monday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Magnuson had finished her waitressing shift at Fogo de Chao that night in October 2021, and was headed with two friends to Reign near 29th and Hennepin avenues when she was hit.

“I mean, did you think I was dead?” she asked Monday, to the paramedics who treated her.

“You were breathing, you had a pulse,” Oyaas recalled.

Magnuson added more context to her question. “The guy I was with said he thought I was dead.”

“It was a pretty significant injury but you were still breathing,” Oyaas said.

Doheny then added: “I thought you were in rough shape, but we did what we had to do and got you out as quickly as we could.”

Magnuson endured four surgeries, including on her pelvis and femur. Over the course of 10 months, Magnuson went to the hospital three times a week for therapy; she just finished up her therapy work in mid-September, her mother said.

A person poses for a portrait
Anya Magnuson poses for a portrait outside the Hennepin County Medical Center on Monday in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Magnuson is able to walk and talk. She’s also capable of hosting at a restaurant, which she does. It’s a remarkable, inspiring recovery — even more so when considering all that she went through before the crash.

Before that October 2021 day, Magnuson was living her best life despite having a rare form of blood cancer.

She worked three jobs, lived with her friends and enjoyed life in the city — with her ability to lead an active life thanks to a treatment administered by a team of medical professionals at the Mayo Clinic. Magnuson’s blood cancer is known as Erdheim-Chester disease; her case was profiled in a lengthy Mayo Clinic Laboratories article.

People talk
Anya Magnuson (left) and paramedics Allan Oyaas (center), and Ryan Doheny (right) talk inside a physical therapy room at Hennepin County Medical Center.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Magnuson was diagnosed with the cancer in 2019 just before she graduated from college. Nonetheless, the then-aspiring journalist earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from Arizona State University.

She then earned a master’s degree from ASU in mass communication. Before the crash, she worked as a communications coordinator for the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and was a freelance photographer for various publications, in addition to working at the restaurant.

When physical therapist Megan Meyer first met Magnuson after the crash, the young woman was “walking a walker, she had a knee brace on her left knee and her walking pattern was, like, really unstable.”

A person talks during an interview
Megan Meyer, a physical therapist, talks during an interview inside a physical therapy room at Hennepin County Medical Center on Monday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Meyer recalled Monday that Magnuson initially was limited to yes/no responses.

“Maybe they were accurate. Maybe they weren’t accurate,” she recalled.

“Now, she has really progressed. She [doesn’t] need a walker anymore, really built up her leg strength, especially on that left side from her fractures, and then started walking independently,” Meyer said.

The two worked for months on balance and coordination. Magnuson has improved her walking speed and strength, Meyer said, and the outcome “looks absolutely amazing.”

These days, she wants to go back to waitressing. Specifically at her happy place, Fogo de Chao.

But most of all, Magnuson said she aims to attain a freedom she had before the accident.

“My parents watch me all day. I hate it,” she said. “I want to be independent, that’s the main thing I want. My number one goal is independence.”

And she has achieved part of that goal. Magnuson lives independently — with family close by to provide support as her recovery continues. 

Correction (Oct. 25, 2022): An earlier version of this story misstated the surgeries and diagnostic timeline for Anya Magnuson. The story has been updated.