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Amber’s Eden

“Caution Horses” reads the yellow sign along a rural road 10 miles from the Canadian border. A handmade “Eggs for Sale” sign follows.

Turn right and you’re there: the 10-acre Oak Ridge Ranch near Lancaster, Minn. Horses in shaggy winter coats eat their hay. A rooster crows. Dogs with wagging tails race to greet you.

Walk up the steps to a trailer home and you’re warmly welcomed by the Frame family -- parents Tracey and Jerry, 13-year-old Amber and 10-year-old Adam.

Nightmare on Dreamer

“Amber doesn’t remember anything about the accident, but she knows what saved her,”says Tracey. “The helmet, emergency help and Sanford.”

Dressed in jeans rolled up at the ankles and a pink plaid western shirt, Amber listens while her parents tell the story. Aristotle the dog jumps into her lap.

The horseback riding accident happened late last fall. An experienced rider, Amber put on her helmet and mounted Dreamer, a horse barely saddle trained. Jerry led them up and down the driveway to make sure the horse was comfortable.

“Everything looked fine so I backed off,” says Jerry. “Then came the sound of hoofbeats picking up speed. Dreamer had bolted and hit a three-strand fence. Amber was thrown and lay face-down on the ground.”

Dreamer jumped up with not a scratch. Amber lay still.

Help from all directions

Jerry loosened the strap under Amber’s chin and heard breathing. Tracey ran in the house and called the ambulance in Hallock, Minn., 36 miles away, then called her neighbor whose visitor happened to be a nurse. All came quickly. Adam served as the lookout, making sure the ambulance took the right turn.

For the next few hours emergency responders, law enforcement and the emergency room staff at Kittson Memorial Hospital in Hallock worked as a team. The goal: stabilize Amber and get her to a trauma hospital.

“We can’t say enough about Dr. Lester in Hallock. He knew Amber needed a neurosurgeon and wouldn’t stop calling ’til he found one,” says Tracey.

Before leaving Hallock, Tracey turned and saw a street blocked off so the Sanford LifeFlight with its specially trained medical team could safely land.

Tracey and Jerry had a lot to think about on their three-hour drive to Fargo. Tracey kept watching the sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Sanford helicopter.

Eye opening

Amber’s airlift to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo led to emergency surgery. Dr. Chad Justesen, neurosurgeon, inserted a shunt to relieve brain swelling -- a first step in treating her traumatic brain injury.

“It was a shock to see her in intensive care -- all the tubes, the ventilator, the monitoring equipment,” says Tracey. “But Dr. Storm and all the doctors and nurses were so good about explaining everything. That helped, plus all the prayers and support.” Dr. Waldemar Storm specializes in pediatric critical care.

Amber was kept in a medication-induced coma to give her a better chance to heal. She spent a week in the Dr. William Klava, physical medicine and rehabilitation, Dr. Norbert Yoe, pediatric hospitalist, and others. A team of pediatric therapists worked with Amber to help her relearn basics such as walking.

“I kept leaning to the left,” says Amber. “I wondered if I’d ever walk straight.”

Besides the hard work, she remembers some lighter moments -- watching “Toy Story 3” and petting a little black dog. Sanford has a pet therapy program.

Healing takes time

After 31 days, Amber went home on Dec. 1. Her return to school has been gradual. A child life specialist visited Amber’s classmates to ease the transition and explain traumatic brain injuries. Healing can be lengthy, up to 18 months.

And horseback riding? Amber can’t ride for at least a year, but she visits the horses daily.

“Want to meet Rosa? She’s my favorite,” says Amber, slipping on her cowboy boots. She leads the way past the chicken coop to the horse corral.

Rosa’s ears perk up. Her velvety nose nuzzles Amber’s coat pocket.

“I know what she wants,” says Amber, reaching into her pocket for an apple treat.

The good life at Oak Ridge…

Posted Date: April 2011