Thomas A. Kvamme • For the Mille Lacs County Times
PEASE – Christmas vacation is a special time of year as students take to the outdoors and record memories with friends and family that will last a lifetime.
On Dec. 28, an experience that started out as fun turned into trauma for a rural Pease family.
At 10 a.m. on that day, 12-year-old Abby Larsen, the daughter of Tracy and Todd Larsen, experienced something that will be with her for a very long time.
Abby was sledding with two cousins in her backyard. Her mother shared what happened next.
“Abby was sitting backwards in the sled and as the sled went down a small hill, it took a path that led right into a 2-inch-diameter tree,” Tracy Larsen recalled.
That misdirection of the sled led to Abby’s back hitting the tree and “it knocked the wind out of her lungs.”
Abby got up and walked around a little as she tried to catch her breath.
“She was hurting and felt like she couldn’t breathe, so her dad brought her in the house and laid her on the couch,” Larsen said.
Tracy and Todd Larsen thought their daughter would have a pretty good bruise on her back, but they did not suspect that she had fractured her back because she had been walking around.
Because she was in a lot of pain, the couple decided to take Abby to the hospital emergency room in Princeton.
“It was a Saturday morning, so we didn’t have a lot of options other than the ER,” Larsen said.
The Larsens carried Abby in, and the hospital staff showed them to a room right away. Abby was lying on her side and was really hurting.
According to Larsen, when the physician came, she ordered an X-ray, and it showed a fracture in her spine in the middle of her back.
“We were advised that Abby should be transported by helicopter to the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital, so that’s what we did,” Larsen explained.
The next step involved placing Abby on a back board and putting a neck brace on her for the trip, Larsen said.
Medical officials said there was room for one parent to accompany Abby in the helicopter, so Tracy Larsen flew along with Abby to the hospital.
Larsen was impressed with a quick 15-minute trip and called it “smooth sailing.”
She had nothing but praise for the crew.
“The pilot was fantastic, as were the two transport nurses who cared for Abby on the way. They kept her comfortable and calm and we were so lucky to have access to the care they provided,” she said.
“Once we arrived at Amplatz, I was overwhelmed with the medical staff’s expertise and efficiency as they cared for Abby,” Larsen said.
“Each member of the team who waited for us to arrive knew exactly his/her responsibility and worked together seamlessly. The neurologists checked her for feeling and watched her wiggle her toes and fingers repeatedly.”
Larsen said a CT scan was ordered and she was allowed to be in the control room to watch the screen with the neurologists.
“It was amazing. How thankful we can all be that God has given us the medical technology we have today and that he has gifted, talented medical staff,” she said.
The medical team could see everything going on in Abby’s back, Larsen said. Once the CT scan was complete, doctors ordered an MRI.
While the MRI was done, Larsen waited in a family lounge for the rest of her family to arrive. While Tracy Larsen rode with Abby in the helicopter, Todd Larsen transported other family members to Amplatz.
For Tracy Larsen, this was the first chance she had to think about what was happening.
“I was very scared, but I knew we were in the best place we could be. I focused on the fact that Abby could easily move every single part of her body,” she said.
After the MRI, doctors decided that Abby would have surgery the following day, which would give those who ideally should be present the needed time to arrive.
Larsen reported that during the surgery, Abby’s spinal cord had to be continually monitored.
“It took an hour and a half to get everything set up with Abby in place before the actual surgery started,” she said.
The surgery proved to be a complete success and the surgeon, Dr. Daniel Guillaume, informed the family that he was “more than pleased” with the results. This procedure stabilized Abby’s back and prevented any further risk of damage to the spinal cord.
“I was not the only one to give Dr. Guillaume a big hug after he came to Abby’s room and gave his post-surgical report,” Larsen said.
Abby remained at Amplatz for one week and was fitted for a brace. She had physical and occupational therapy while she was in the hospital and will wear this brace for approximately three months while she heals.
In her case, Abby is able to remove the brace if she wants to lay down.
According to Larsen, her daughter can also leave the brace off while she sleeps.
“Abby should be able to resume her physical activities (swimming, volleyball, softball, dance) after six months. We will have regular check-ups to monitor her progress,” Larsen said.
“We are so thankful that Abby’s spinal cord was not damaged and that she can walk. It really puts things into perspective when I think of how serious her injuries were and how lucky we were,” Larsen said.
“Abby went through so much, and I learned through this accident how strong and courageous she really is. I think it made us love her even more,” she continued.
Through all this, Larsen compiled a list of lessons that were learned from the experience.
• Never sit backwards while sledding.
•If the sled takes an unexpected course, the rider could possibly avoid a collision if facing forward.
• If any kind of back or neck injury is suspected, do not move the patient.
“Hindsight is 20/20, as we never suspected a serious injury had taken place, but all you can do is your best with the information you have at the time,” she said.
Tracy and Todd Larsen praised the medical and administrative staff at Fairview Northland who were, in their words, “absolutely wonderful and are to be commended on the care they gave Abby.”
The couple also had high praise for Amplatz.
“Words cannot convey how amazing the medical and administrative staff at Amplatz Children’s is. During such a critical time for Abby, I felt at peace and so very confident in their abilities. They are a group of people so talented, it’s unbelievable,” Larsen said.
For the Larsen family, this will be one Christmas vacation they will never forget.
However, the thing that they keep talking about that “might just be even more amazing is how our community wrapped us in their arms during this difficult time,” Larsen said.
“It started the minute people found out we were at Amplatz, and it has not stopped. I cannot count how many phone calls, text messages, Facebook messages, emails, cards, gifts for Abby, visits, plates of cookies, hot meals and hugs we have received.”
For the Larsens, families and friends have been invaluable, especially during the hard times.
“We prayed together many, many times, and I know that we could never be where we are today without them. People who have never even met Abby have loved her through her accident. Our community has supported us through it all. Family and friends are so precious,” Larsen said.
Abby, who attends Community Christian School in Pease, is walking and back in school on a limited basis to keep up with her studies.