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Reagan takes flight

Reagan Lennes and her mother, Lisa, smile with excitement as Reagan’s father, Mike, and surgeon, Dr. Lance Svoboda, offer helping hands to assist her out of the Life Link III helicopter. (Contributed photo)1 / 2
Assisting Reagan Lennes (red hat) in cutting the ribbon to the new helistop at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) are (left to right) Dr. John Pryor, HCMC CEO; Brynley Lennes; Lisa Lennes; Hayden Lennes; Mike Lennes; Dr. Lance Svoboda; Dr. William Heegaard, HCMC chief clinical officer; Joe Nielsen, flight paramedic (covered); Twyla Bergenstal, flight nurse; and Dale Rahn, pilot. (Contributed photo)2 / 2

Six-year-old Reagan Lennes of Alexandria took her first helicopter ride on March 12, 2014. But she doesn't remember it.

She suffered a severe head injury that day and has no recollection of the emergency flight that helped save her life.

Many surgeries, emotions and recoveries later, Reagan received the chance to take flight once again.

THE ACCIDENT

Reagan, then 5 years old, and her 4-year-old sister, Hayden, were playing at a friend's house, which was equipped with an in-home elevator, a smaller version of a commercial elevator, for a girl in a wheelchair.

While Reagan rode to the second floor with her friends and sister, her head somehow became trapped.

"Her head had gotten caught somehow in a space that was able to get stuck," said Reagan's mother, Lisa. It ripped her scalp from ear to ear and broke every bone in her face.

"Except her nose," Lisa said, shaking her head. "Odd. She's got this tiny little nose."

Reagan was airlifted to Level I Pediatric Trauma Center at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), where maxillofacial surgeon Lance Svoboda reattached her scalp and conducted a 12-hour surgery to repair her face.

Reagan woke up with a calm demeanor beyond her years. She curiously felt the tubes pumping her with life and first thought of others.

"She was worried, very worried, right away about the girl in the wheelchair, if she could still use her elevator," Lisa said.

After about 24 days in the hospital, Reagan returned home. Then the healing, both emotional and physical, began.

"It took time," Lisa said of emotionally healing from the experience. "You think you're doing so well, and months later, you get hit with 'I can't believe that that all just occurred.' It's kind of like a full grieving process."

STEPS TOWARD HEALING

Reagan's recovery could have been riddled with complications, but everything fell right into place.

"That part still amazes me," Lisa said. "At the time, you always expect the worst, but from the moment we walked in, the surgeon said, 'As far as we can tell, there's no brain damage.' Then from that moment on, it was just the best it could be."

The community immediately showed its support. One individual created a website to raise money. Another started Rabbits for Reagan, from which Reagan received 1,400 colored pictures of rabbits.

"She wanted a real one," Lisa said and laughed. "Of course, right when she woke up, we said, 'Guess what? You're getting a real rabbit!'"

The hospital staff even did its part to keep Reagan comfortable. She lost two teeth in the accident, and a very generous tooth fairy visited her in the hospital.

"They left her $20 for each tooth, so she got 40 bucks!" Lisa said. "Left her a letter even."

Now a year and a half later, Reagan's face has healed and her smile shines brighter than ever. The only permanent remnant of her accident is a mesh piece supporting her left eye.

Every six months, doctors will check her progress and monitor her bones to make sure they grow as she grows. They also operated multiple times on her left ear canal, which was squeezed shut.

This year, Reagan took a large step by returning to the house where the accident occurred.

"It's so amazing. She's just calm," Lisa said. "There've been times where she'll get upset and start crying and say, 'I'm thinking about my bad accident.' Then she'd move on and be fine."

On the one-year anniversary, Lisa asked Reagan to pick something special to do. Reagan opened her big heart and chose to drive to HCMC to hand out balloons to kids.

"Everybody comments about that, how amazing she is and what an inspiration she is. She is to me," Lisa said. "And I keep telling her that, how she's helping so many other kids who have to go through a hospital stay."

A RIDE TO REMEMBER

Though remembering her accident often conjures painful emotions, there are other details that Reagan wishes she could recollect.

"She said, 'Mom, I had a helicopter ride and I don't even remember it. I wish I could remember it,'" Lisa said.

Little did she know, she would have another opportunity to take a helicopter ride.

HCMC recently added a new helistop for the trauma center, and it wanted a special passenger for the inaugural helicopter landing.

"We were looking for a pediatric patient," said Christine Hill, media relations at HCMC. "[Reagan] was just the natural choice of everybody on our committee."

On Thursday, November 12, Reagan and her mom drove to the Blaine airport. From there, they took flight in a Life Link III helicopter, riding with the very people who had transported Reagan after her accident.

Connected to HCMC by a live feed and sitting by a large glass window, Reagan got the best view in the helicopter.

"Once we got into the sky, the first thing she said is, 'Mom, the cars are so tiny.' She was all smiles while we were in the air," Lisa said. "A little nervous taking off, a little nervous landing, but the rest was awesome."

Dr. Svoboda and Reagan's father, Mike, were the first to greet her after the 10-minute flight. She eagerly jumped into her father's arms before everyone lined up to cut the ribbon to officially open the helistop.

Hopefully, this special ride will be one that Reagan will remember for years to come.

"But now her sister wants one," Lisa said, laughing and shaking her head. "So we're going to have to find another helicopter."

Jessica Sly

Jessica Sly has been working as a content writer at the Echo Press since May 2012, contributing, proofreading and editing content for both the Echo and Osakis Review. A Wadena native, she graduated from Verndale High School in 2009 and worked that summer at the Wadena Pioneer Journal as an intern reporter. She attended Northwestern College in St. Paul (now the University of Northwestern - St. Paul), where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in writing and a minor in Bible. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the piano (and learning the violin), reading, writing novels, going to the movies, and exploring Alexandria.

(320) 763-1232
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