Cassie Sonnentag reached the top of her home’s basement stairs, intending to make lunch for her young daughters, when she heard it. She says she’ll never get the sound out of her head—a resounding BANG from below.
“I knew exactly what it was,” remembers Sonnentag. Her husband knew too.
“We Can’t Handle This Here”
Cassie and Nate Sonnentag raced downstairs and were met with eerie quiet. To their horror, the family’s 150-pound box TV had fallen on 4-year-old Ahriana. She’d been playing in a basement bedroom, which the family normally keeps locked, and climbed a dresser to retrieve a teddy bear. “She wasn’t making any noise and her body was seized up,” says Sonnentag. “We knew something had happened to her head.”
Ahriana’s parents had almost finished dialing 9-1-1 when Ahrianna began to wake up. Rather than wait for an ambulance, they took matters into their own hands. “My husband said, ‘Get her in the car right now,’” recalls Sonnentag. The family lives just two miles from Baldwin Area Medical Center in western Wisconsin. They say the proximity to the hospital saved Ahriana’s life.
During the short drive, Ahriana drifted in and out of consciousness. Upon arrival at the hospital, emergency staff took immediate action to stabilize her. Her mom learned within minutes that Ahriana’s injuries were severe enough to warrant a different level of care. “They told me, ‘We called the helicopter. She needs to go somewhere where they can handle this.’
Trauma Team Offers Reassurance
Ahriana was airlifted to the Level I Pediatric Trauma Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, that Regions Hospital and Gillette Children’s partner to operate. The trauma center’s pediatric expertise, facilities and technology mean that children like Ahriana receive the highest level of care following a traumatic injury.
Upon arrival at Regions and Gillette, Ahriana’s parents learned their daughter had a skull fracture. A computed tomography (CT) scan and other tests confirmed that, thankfully, she wouldn’t require surgery. They were reunited with Ahriana in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).
“Nothing prepares you for that,” says Sonnentag of seeing her daughter in a medically induced coma, hooked up to wires and tubes.
PICU nurses reassured the family that Ahriana’s prognosis appeared promising. As Ahriana began to wake from her coma, they helped her family understand what to expect. “They said they’d waited to wake her up so we were the first thing she saw. That was amazing—it was important to us that she didn’t wake up alone.”
Becoming Ahriana Again
New concerns arose after Ahriana woke from her coma. Normally energetic and constantly in motion, Ahriana didn’t seem like herself. “She didn’t want to move and didn’t want to talk,” remembers Sonnentag. “That was the scariest part.”
Ahriana had progressed enough to transfer to the Neurosciences Unit the following day. Still, her personality seemed muted and her speech limited. To her family’s relief, that quickly changed. It began with making a silly face to a nurse. Then showing an interest in toys. Soon Ahriana’s voice had returned. She wanted to move—even danced with her nurse. After a thorough evaluation, her care team deemed her well enough to return home days ahead of schedule.
“Doctors, nurses, physical therapists and speech therapists had gathered in her room to evaluate her,” says Sonnentag. “They called her recovery amazing.”
Family Applauds Team’s Quick Action
Ahriana’s parents attribute their daughter’s full recovery largely to the fast action of the Regions-Gillette Level I Pediatric Trauma Center team. “They worked quickly to rule out every possible concern. They kept us updated, too—that’s the biggest thing. As parents, you’re desperate to know what’s going on,” says Sonnentag.
It wasn’t just the expertise of Ahriana’s team, but also their compassion, that left an impression on the Sonnentags. “They made us as the parents, and our daughter, feel welcomed and cared for during a time that we could have been broken down. They made a horrible situation the best it could be.”
“Don’t Think it Won’t Happen to You”
More grateful than ever for their healthy little girl, Ahriana’s family is urging others to properly secure their TVs. While box TVs carry the most risk, even flat screen TVs have the potential to cause devastating injuries.
“I had taken every precaution you could imagine,” says Sonnentag, who describes herself as the quintessential overprotective mom. “Baby gates, safety latches, doorknob guards—everything. There’s always something that will slip under your radar. Don’t think it won’t happen to you.”