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A trip turned tragic

Brad Klinkner (left) and his son, Adam (right) are pictured during a snowmobile trip last year. (Contributed)1 / 3
Brad Klinkner was riding this snowmobile on Jan. 16 when he hit an embankment and went airborne, then was struck by another snowmobile. He ended up in the intensive care unit of North Memorial Medical Center, and is now home and recovering. (Beth Leipholtz | Echo Press)2 / 3
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On Jan. 15, Brad Klinkner, his son, Adam, and a family friend set out on a bucket list snowmobile trip across the state, beginning in southern Minnesota and ending in the north.

However, the three Douglas County men never finished the trip. Just 100 miles short of their destination, tragedy struck.

A dream trip

The group's plan was to begin in Elmore the morning of Saturday, Jan. 15, and arrive in International Falls the next evening. They would then be picked up in International Falls and be brought back to the Alexandria area.

The first day of the trip went according to plan, and the group ended in Avon in Stearns County. They were picked up and returned to Garfield for the night, then traveled back to Avon to resume the trip early Sunday.

About 2 p.m. Sunday, they arrived in Bemidji. With roughly 100 miles left to International Falls, they assumed they would finish the trip without a problem.

Then came the accident.

Tragedy strikes

About 3 p.m., about eight miles north of Blackduck, Brad's snowmobile hit an embankment and went airborne. Brad was thrown from the sled, and landed in the path of another snowmobile in the group, which hit him.

According to Brad, there was nothing the rider could have done to avoid him.

"The next person can only slow down so much, and it was just where I landed," he said.

Though Brad doesn't recall much from the crash, Adam has a clear recollection of how his gut instincts kicked in to save his father once it became clear how badly he was injured.

"I just wanted him to stay alive," Adam said. "I had to come to terms with it pretty quickly that he might not make it off the snowmobile trail just because he was having a hard time responding and couldn't move his legs for me. I'm like, 'You're not going to die here. I'm going to do everything in my power to get you off this trail.'"

Luckily, says Adam, he had cell phone service and knew approximately where on the trail they were. He called 911, and 14 minutes later, an ambulance arrived.

"To keep him talking was a big thing, and to keep him conscious," Adam said. "We kept him talking until the EMTs got there, and they kept him talking all the way to the hospital."

Brad was taken by ambulance to Sanford Medical Center in Bemidji, then flown to North Memorial Medical Center in the Twin Cities after it was determined that he had blood in his chest cavity.

At North Memorial, the extent of Brad's injuries became more clear. He had five broken ribs, a possible concussion, two broken shoulder blades, a punctured lung, a damaged disc between two vertebrae and a bruised aorta.

"He had two units of blood before he left Bemidji, two units on the helicopter and two when he landed, which is a whole body's worth of blood," Adam said. "They had him listed in critical condition in the ICU for a day and a half."

On Tuesday, Jan. 18, Brad underwent surgery to repair his back, during which eight screws and two rods were placed.

"You're just praying and praying he's going to make it, because you just don't know," Adam said. "When you hear your dad is in critical condition in a hospital ... it's kind of like a fog."

The surgery went as planned, and on Saturday, Feb. 4, Brad returned home to Garfield. However, on Wednesday, Feb. 8, Brad was again taken to North Memorial by ambulance due to pain and difficulty breathing. On Tuesday, Feb. 14, he underwent another surgery to stop a fluid leak in his chest.

On Thursday, Feb. 23, Brad returned home.

Road to recovery

Though he is home and comfortable, Brad is still recovering from the crash.

He is in a back brace, which he will remain in until at least May. He also has periodic checkups to be sure everything is healing correctly, and he will have to undergo one more procedure to remove a filter that had been inserted in one of his arteries during a previous surgery.

Regarding the crash, Adam says it's amazing how natural instincts kick in during an emergency.

"I look back and I'm like, 'How was I even able to dial 911?'" he said. "Everything was just calm. Another power kind of takes over you."

Additionally, he says that the emergency personnel couldn't have moved more swiftly or professionally.

"Everything just worked out so well," Adam said. "He wasn't meant to die there. The fact that they sent a helicopter and the ambulance was so close, everything was laid out and ready to go for him."

Though the crash has changed their perspective of life, Brad and Adam say it's not something they will dwell on forever.

"You can't live your life differently," Adam said. "Accidents happen. It just happened, and that's part of the story of our life."

As for the trip? Brad and Adam will likely finish it next winter, as long as Brad heals properly. After the crash, Brad says the way he rides is likely to change.

"I know we'd want to be awfully careful to not do something like that again," Brad said. "We'll probably ride differently or more cautiously."

The Klinkner family wishes to express their thanks to all who have stepped up over the past two months.

"I want to thank all the people for prayers and correspondence and support for me, through surgery, while at the hospital and even now," Brad said. "There has been a tremendous amount of support from friends and people we don't even know. I'd like to thank all those who have helped me through this journey."

Beth Leipholtz

Beth is a reporter at the Echo Press. She graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in May 2015 with a degree in Communication and Hispanic Studies. Journalism has always been her passion, but she also enjoys blogging and graphic design. In her spare time, she's most likely at Crossfit or at home with her boyfriend and three dogs.

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