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Saved by the belt

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As the Marketing and Foundation Director at Essentia Health–St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd, Miranda Anderson is typically on the service end of health care, a part of the team ensuring patients and their loved ones receive top-notch care in times of physical need.

However, one November morning Anderson found herself and her family on the receiving end of that same care chain.

The day started out like any other. The Andersons were loading their family minivan to drop off kids at school, then get themselves to work. However, it also happened to be the day before Thanksgiving, so the Andersons had also packed their gear for the holiday weekend, as they planned to leave at the end of the school and work day for Coon Rapids to be with family.

As they traveled down County Road 3 in Merrifield, Miranda recalls looking down into her purse for something as husband, Chuck, drove and their three children kept busy in the back singing and engaging in chit-chat. However, as they approached the Clow Stamping plant along County Road 3, Miranda said she suddenly heard the crushing of metal and felt intense heat.

Police reports state the Anderson’s Chrysler Town and Country minivan was struck head-on by a Dodge Neon. The Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department reported the driver of the Neon was attempting a left-hand turn into Clow when he collided with the Anderson’s vehicle.

“I didn’t even see it coming,” Miranda said, noting neither she nor husband Chuck had ever been involved in a prior crash.

The impact of the crash sent the Anderson’s van into the ditch where it settled not far from a tree.

“I just remember Chuck and I right away made eye contact with each other. We knew we were OK, so our next priority was just to get the kids out.” Miranda continued, adding what she recalled from crash scenes on television and in movies was fireball infernos and explosions from ruptured gas lines.

The Andersons’ three children – Mallory, 8, Ben, 5, and Kate, 20 months – were all safely restrained and in place in the rear of the van. While scared and confused, the kids showed no visible signs of trauma and Chuck and Miranda quickly removed them and got them away from the van.

“I just went into ‘Mom Mode,’” she said. Working off adrenaline from the crash, she got the three kids a safe distance from the crash scene and over to a tree where they sat down together and she was able to begin comforting and checking them over.

Meanwhile, Chuck returned to the scene to check on the other driver. The impact of the crash trapped the young driver in his vehicle and Chuck immediately noticed a fire growing under the hood. After calling 911, he ran inside Clow Stamping to find a fire extinguisher. Soon, other passersby began to stop and also assist.

“It could have been so much different,” Miranda said, noting the days following flooded her with thoughts of the ‘what ifs.’ “It could’ve, and should’ve, been a whole lot worse, but it wasn’t, for a variety of reasons.”

One of those reasons was proper restraints, including car seats and seat belts, Miranda emphasized.

“I’m so thankful that carseats have always been so important to us, as well as the proper use of seat belts.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, seven out of 10 child safety seats are used incorrectly in the State of Minnesota. Motor vehicle crashes are also the leading cause of death and disability among children, according to the DPS.

Amanda Svir is the Trauma Coordinator at Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd and also sits on the Crow Wing County Passenger Safety Coalition, an entity representing over 13 organizations throughout the area with an interest in keeping children properly restrained and safe.

The CWC Passenger Safety Coalition typically hosts two to three car seat safety clinics each year, offering an opportunity for families to have their child restraint systems checked for proper installation and use.

In September 2013, the CWC Passenger Safety Coalition and Essentia co-hosted a car seat safety clinic. In a span of two hours, trained and certified technicians checked over 30 seats and found a staggering 85-95 percent of seats were not being used properly.

“We really want to emphasize the importance of proper use and installation of car seats,” Svir said. “Children should be secure in their seat every time the vehicle moves. Oftentimes, we go into auto mode and, as a mom, we go 100 miles per hour. But you need to remember, every time. Buckle up, keep them safe. They’re precious cargo.”

No one understands that better than the Anderson family.

“Before we even leave the garage, we check to make sure everyone has their seat belt on ‘the right way,’” Miranda noted. “The kids even check each other. I’m so glad we have that kind of awareness. We’ve always been diligent, but, now, we’re even more so.”

“We were protected that day,” she added. “It’s still a very scary situation, but the kids saw many familiar faces of the first responders, including law enforcement and firefighters we know from church and the community.”

One of those first on the scene immediately following the crash was a woman who identified herself to the Andersons as a nurse. She comforted and cared for Miranda and her children until the ambulance arrived to evaluate them. A few days later, back to work at Essentia, a nurse from second floor stopped by Miranda’s office to check on her and was the same nurse who had stopped to help.

“It was so amazing to have that opportunity to thank her personally,” Miranda said. “This crash provided an experience for us to talk with our kids about how God protected us, how people came together to take care of us – the policemen, the firemen. The importance of a seat belt. It is a real testament of a community when they rally around people in need. I definitely felt that sense here. Everyone kicked into action to do something.”

Miranda and the three kids were treated for minor scrapes, cuts and bruises at Essentia and released. And, despite the day’s life-changing events, the family decided to continue their Thanksgiving trek to the metro area later that day. The family also replaced their totaled out minivan with another Town and Country, strongly believing this vehicle also played a role in their positive outcome.

“It was ironic how it all happened right before Thanksgiving,” Miranda concluded. “But something like this puts into perspective how precious everything truly is. It made us even more thankful for what we have in a family, in a community and our faith in God. So often, you take the responsibility of driving for granted. You’re thinking about where you need to go next, responding to the kids. Driving becomes so routine. But, after this experience, it doesn’t feel routine to me anymore. It really changes everything.”