Having a child turn 1 is an exciting milestone for parents.
For Don and Jessica Haataja — having their baby Auna turn 1 Saturday, Feb. 16 — is not only a milestone for them, but a blessing.
The Haatajas, who each live in rural Brainerd, last week feared a parent’s worst nightmare, losing their baby. Auna was critically injured in a two-vehicle head-on crash Feb. 5 at the junction of Highway 371 and Crow Wing County Road 29, just south of Pequot Lakes, and was airlifted to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, where she was released on Tuesday.
Auna’s mother, Jessica, who was driving Auna to the baby’s great-grandmother’s house from Pequot Lakes to Brainerd, also was injured and taken to Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd where she was treated until she was discharged on Tuesday.
Jessica, who lost control on a curve, spun around and collided with another vehicle head-on, said it seemed like the whole crash happened in slow motion. She said the roads were icy and she lost traction on the road, but was able to correct it and thought she was OK, but then the car jerked and went into in a spinning motion.
“I remember looking through my mirrors and seeing the truck coming at me, I looked at my daughter and felt the impact of the crash,” Jessica said. “There was nothing I could do about it. I can’t look at the photos (of the crash) in the newspaper because seeing all the damage, it is just too hard.”
Jessica said it took her awhile to know the extent of her injuries from the crash, because she was only worried about her baby girl. Jessica said a witness, Sarah Hanson, was the first person to respond and she got Auna out of the car.
“I don’t know if I blacked out or was unconscious,” said Jessica. “She asked me if I was OK and she smelled gas and said we needed to get out fast ... I was standing over Auna in Sarah’s car and she was screaming and there was blood on her face.”
Hanson was not the only witness who helped the baby. Donnie Anderson of Pequot Lakes was on her way to work as a registered nurse at Barnabas Home Health Care in Brainerd that morning.
“I was running late and I drove up to the crash about three minutes after it happened,” said Anderson. “I saw the line of cars that had to stop for the crash and I drove around it to get to the scene. I ran to the car and saw Jessica still there so I got her out.”
Anderson, who had her medical bag, said she tried to get witnesses to help Jessica while she treated Auna. She checked to see if she was breathing and she listened to her lungs.
“Auna was slipping in and out of consciousness,” said Anderson. “It was so hard seeing her as her eyes were rolling back into her head and I was trying to have the others try to keep the mother calm.”
Once the ambulance arrived, Auna and Jessica were put on stretchers and rushed to the hospital. Jessica said when they were taken into the ambulance, she wouldn’t let the paramedics treat her, even though she felt pressure on her shoulder, because she wanted them to treat Auna. Jessica said once at the hospital she was treated and then Auna was airlifted to North Memorial.
Auna broke her right leg in two spots — her femur and fibula — had a collapsed lung and a blood vessel in her brain was bleeding.
“It didn’t stop bleeding for three days,” said Don, who was at his daughter’s hospital bed the entire time. Don, who owns Haataja Body Shop, north of Brainerd, said he got a phone call the morning of the crash.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Don said through his tears talking about his daughter. “When I got to the Brainerd hospital ... I could tell something was wrong. She had two big bruises on her face and blood was coming out everywhere. She was on life support (in sedated coma) when she first got here and it was minute by minute, to hour by hour, to day by day on knowing if she was going to come through.”
Don said that she had all the tubes in her, like the breathing and feeding tubes, and that was tough for him to see. Don said he was concerned about Auna’s brain injury and wondered what her future would hold.
As the days went on, Don said Auna began to do well and she improved each day. Don said when Auna was released from the hospital, the doctors said her brain is healed and she continues to have the cast on her leg that broke. Doctors will do an X-ray on Auna in two weeks to see how her leg is healing and if it is, the cast can come off in three weeks.
Don said he is blessed for all the community support he has received since Auna’s crash.
“We had over 1,000 people praying for her,” said Don. “There were people at five churches who were praying for her and the schools where my children go also prayed for her.
“Donnie is my hero, she saved Auna.”
Anderson said the Feb. 5 crash was the first incident that she encountered since she became a first responder five years ago. Anderson said there is no way she would not help out people in an emergency like Auna. She said helping others is in her blood. In fact, she helped out another person on Feb. 8 in Brainerd. She said an elderly man, who may have had a possible stroke or heart attack while driving, was stuck in the middle of the intersection of Washington Street and Northwest Fourth Street with his foot on the brake. Anderson said she stopped and was able to help the man, unlock his vehicle and help him until the ambulance arrived. Anderson said a bystander told her that the man was sitting in his vehicle in traffic for 10 minutes before she stopped to help.