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Northern Minn. girl, 8, in long-term recovery after bonfire explosion

Arionna Matteson (Submitted photo)

MENAHGA, Minn. — An 8-year-old girl is expected to be at a Minneapolis hospital for another three or four months after she and two other children were burned after an apparent backyard bonfire explosion in Menahga in northwest Minnesota last month.

According to the Wadena County Sheriff report, at approximately 8 p.m. on Sept. 29., the caller reported hearing a loud bang, followed by screaming at the southeast Menahga home. There has been no official details yet on what caused the bonfire explosion.

Suffering the most serious injury was 8-year-old Arionna Matteson, who sustained burns over at least 75 percent of her body. Her 10-year-old brother, Drake, received burns on the left side of his face and neck. Libby Havnes, a 9-year-old friend of Arionna's, suffered burns on 12 percent of her body, according to a Menahga Police Department report.

Arionna, nicknamed "Onna," is the daughter of Jennifer Phillips and Tim Matteson and a second-grader at Menahga Elementary School.

According to her CaringBridge page, Onna was flown via North Memorial AirCare from Menahga to the Hennepin County Medical Center, where she was admitted into the burn intensive care unit.

She was "awake and alert" from the time of the incident until arriving at the hospital, "where the emergency burn team intubated her and gave her sedation medication to relieve her of the pain. Onna was then placed into a medically induced coma."

Later, the dispatcher informed Phillips that if the accident had happened 20 minutes later, the life flight would've been unavailable and Onna would've been transported by ground.

"When burns are that extensive, it's crucial to get fluids right away. Thankfully, she was able to be flown in. If she would've lost fluids, she would've lost her eyesight and had nerve damage," Phillips said.

On Oct. 3, Onna underwent a 4½-hour surgery. Surgeons removed burnt skin from her legs, shoulders and torso. They placed an INTEGRA dermal regeneration template "on the places they cleaned up and that will act as a barrier to her open wounds as the skin underneath tries to regrow," wrote Phillips.

INTEGRA has two layers. A thick underlayer is made of pure collagen (protein) from cows and a substance called glycosaminoglycan from shark cartilage. Collagen and glycosaminoglycan are natural components of skin. A thin, outer layer is made of silicone.

During a three-hour surgery Oct. 5, doctors worked on the burns on her hands and arms, again applying INTEGRA.

On Oct. 12, Onna was given a temporary tracheotomy.

"She needs it because of the damage to her face from the fire and the fact that she has to have the ventilator for long term," Phillips said.

A four-hour surgery that same day focused on her neck and face burns.

Skin grafting surgeries began Oct. 16. This involves taking skin — both the epidermis and dermis layers — from unburned spots on the patient's body, called "donor sites," and grafting it onto the burn wound. A second wound is created at the donor site.

"So they will be taking skin from the good part Onna has, which is her lower legs. At that time, the nurse said Onna will be considered 100 percent burnt because the donor site will be equivalent to a second degree burn," Phillips explained.

More skin grafting was planned for the past couple weeks.

Doctors are observing Onna for infection and keeping her sedated.

Onna is expected to remain at the Hennepin County Medical Center for three to four months.

Then, for the next two years, Onna will not be able to be in direct sunlight. She'll need to wear wide-brimmed hats and UV clothing with 50 SPF protection. She'll likely have weekly doctor appointments.

"Her burn sites will be very sensitive to sun, heat and cold, so we will need to pay a lot of attention to how she is doing throughout the years to come," Phillips writes on CaringBridge.

"She's a strong, little girl," she said. "We're trying to be strong and positive for her sake.

"She's also a big-hearted girl," Phillips said.

Carrie Robbins, a close friend of the family, is organizing a benefit dinner to help with medical expenses.

A smoked pork dinner fundraiser will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25, at the Menahga VFW. Friends and relatives also set up a GoFundMe account, called "Healing for Onna," in the hopes of raising $10,000.

The Menahga VFW is also hosting a Nov. 3 fish fry, with proceeds being split between Onna and Libby Havnes, the other girl burned.

The 9-year-old injured in the explosion was transported to CHI St. Joseph's Health in Menahga, then also transferred to the Hennepin County Medical Center's burn unit. She had burns to her face and back of her hands, Phillips said, and was released after four days.

Onna's brother Drake was not admitted to the hospital. During a follow-up visit, his doctor said he is healing very well.

"We want to extend a huge thank you to all for the thoughts, prayers and support. We would not be able to stay so strong without all of you, and once Onna is able to be awake, she will need the support more than anything. It's going to be a tough road for our little fighter."

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