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  • Fairbury News staff

Fehrs count their blessings

(L to R) Austin, Blaze, Nikki and Zaythen Fehr on vacation in Williamsburg, Virginia (photo provided).

One local family is definitely looking at the holidays a bit differently this year.

The Fehrs are focusing more on spending time with family after their world was turned upside down back in September when 13-year-old Blaze sustained a severe head injury at youth football practice.

“That caused me to have a brain bleed which took me to the hospital for a couple of weeks,” Blaze explained. “The recovery process is ongoing still.”

While Blaze may have vague memories of the aftermath, his parents remember it like it was yesterday.

“We were just a couple of blocks away and got the phone call that he had collapsed at football,” said Blaze’s mother, Nikki.

SELCAS ambulance personnel and Fairbury Police were already on the scene as Blaze had a seizure on the field and was still not awake when his family arrived.

“I only remember maybe a minute after I got hit, then I passed out,” Blaze recalled.

Nikki said they were halfway to Pontiac before he started becoming alert but was still not making much sense. Medical personnel at Pontiac did a head CT scan to see what was going on and cut all of his football equipment off to get answers.

“Luckily, Life Flight (medical helicopter) had just dropped somebody off somewhere and was passing back through and Pontiac hospital had called and told them they had a teenager with a heady injury if they could stop,” added Nikki.

The Fehrs were told Blaze had bleeding on the right side of his brain and he was going to be flown to Peoria as the trauma team and neuro-surgeons had already been notified. Neither Nikki nor Blaze’s father, Austin, could ride in the helicopter with him.

“It was the longest ride from Bloomington to Peoria ever,” observed Nikki.

Blaze remembers waking up in Pontiac and getting on the Life Flight before later waking in Peoria.

“I have a big scar across my head because they had to cut it open,” noted Blaze.

According to his mom, Blaze was completely alert when getting off the helicopter and answering questions in the children’s emergency room. Doctors were going to give the brain bleed time to see if it healed itself.

Blaze’s parents were able to sit with him and it probably wasn’t even a half hour when he wasn’t waking up to talk anymore so the nurse called the neuro-surgeon in. They evaluated him and said he started declining so he underwent a right side craniectomy where part of the skull is removed to clean everything up.

“Then we just started the waiting process.”

No one knew how severe the damage was to the brain as Blaze was intubated and sedated. After a few hours in the intensive care unit, the medical team was having trouble with his blood pressure and could not get it stable. Another head CT indicated bleeding again in the same area.

“They rushed him back down there and reopened everything. That time was only about an hour to an hour and a half surgery,” said Nikki.

When they brought Blaze out, he was still sedated, had a breathing tube and was hooked up to IV’s. By this time, it was Wednesday evening and Blaze was on sedation medicine to let his body rest. He woke up on Thursday and could answer questions while breathing on his own.

“When we told him it was Thursday, he had a very surprised look on his face. He was not aware that it had been almost two days,” stated Nikki, who praised the doctors and nurses at OSF St. Francis in Peoria.

Blaise suffered short-term memory loss as he did not remember a lot of what happened throughout the whole ordeal and had some headaches for a couple of days. The Fehrs were at St. Francis for a week before they could head home. The time at the hospital included plenty of physical and occupational checks.

It was a new normal back home for the Fehr clan.

“He wasn’t allowed to be left alone at all because he didn’t have the skull cap back on, so when he would be up moving around, he had to wear a protective helmet,” Nikki said.

After a later trip for another head CT, the swelling was down so things would start getting back to normal as Blaze got has skull cap back on. He was only in the hospital for a little over a day that time and could not lay completely flat due to swelling upon his return home.

“It was a quite a change in all of our lives for the first couple months.”

Before Blaze was moved to Peoria, people were reaching out offering support to the Fehrs. The football team was fantastic along with football moms.

“Even though Pontiac is our rival, we have really good friends over there who helped make stickers then a couple of the other football moms colored socks for their boys to wear,” recalled Nikki.

Pastors from the First Baptist Church of Fairbury, where the Fehrs attend, brought goodies to the hospital and a welcome home parade was even held as Blaze returned home to Fairbury in September.

Austin’s father and Blaze’s grandfather, Nathan Fehr, called the night before they left to come home telling them to slow down about a mile and a half out of town when traveling along Route 24. There were Fairbury fire trucks waiting along with police cars and an ambulance.

“They all pulled out in front of us with lights and sirens going into town,” said Austin. “It was pretty cool.”

This takes small-town living to a whole different level, in Nikki’s opinion.

“For these people to take the time and send us messages or even cards and gifts, it’s amazing.”

A woman serving with SELCAS worked on Blaze on the way to Pontiac the day of the incident and had the honor of being in the ambulance for the welcome home parade and see it all come full circle.

The doctor told Blaze no more football but he is exploring other options like any teenager would.

“I am starting to look into golf, though,” Blaze said proudly. “That’d be a sport maybe I’d get into.”

Life is basically back to normal for the Prairie Central student as he is back in school full time and is able to participate in physical education again. He missed his friends while in the hospital and was happy to see his younger sister, Zaythen, again.

“Getting home seeing the pets and seeing more of my family was a lot better than sitting in the hospital.”

Nikki admits anyone’s world can change in as little as one day like theirs did and there is nothing to compare it to.

“Now we are working more on spending time with family and friends than anything,” Nikki concluded.

A Christmas miracle, indeed.

(L to R) Nikki, Blaze and Austin Fehr visit with Fairbury News last week.

A parade of fire trucks on Sept. 20 welcoming Blaze Fehr and his family back home from the hospital.

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