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Bertha-Hewitt teacher recovering after tree crashes onto her ATV

Amber Franks of Alexandria is pictured here with her husband, Ryan. Amber was injured April 2 when a tree fell on her while she was riding an ATV in northern Minnesota. (Contributed)

By Trinity Gruenberg

Independent News Herald

Amber Franks allowed her students to pick a name to go on the back of her Pops Concert T-shirt. The chosen name said it all – Survivor.

The Bertha-Hewitt choir teacher is home in Alexandria recovering after a freak accident left her with serious injuries.

On April 2, Franks was riding an ATV with her aunt, Marge Harju, on the Iron Range near Aurora in northern Minnesota.

She was following her aunt and the driving winds caused a 14-inch tree to snap and fall on Franks.

“The tree popped and I heard it falling and I saw the shadow of the tree. It hit me on my lower back and it knocked me off the ATV.

“I couldn’t see anything. It was just white. I was in excruciating pain. It knocked the wind out of me,” she explained.

Franks wiggled her fingers and toes and remembered feeling the ATV with her foot.

Her aunt called for help.

“I thought this had to be a dream,” Franks said. “When I saw the EMS guys above me, I knew it wasn’t a dream.

They cut the tree in order to clear a path to transport her out. They placed her on a trailer on the back of another ATV to move her.

By this time, medics had pumped Franks full of pain medication and they started to take effect. The vibrations from the ATV also helped to soothe the immense pain she was in.

EMS transported Franks to a nearby field where she was taken by helicopter to St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth.

Her pelvis had split in two pieces. She also had nine transverse process fractures to her lower vertebrae. Meaning, the wing-like bones that are on both sides of a vertebra bone had broken.

“They scheduled my surgery for my pelvis the next day. The transverse fractures, I was told, would reattach and recalcify on their own,” Franks explained.

The pelvic injury was close to damaging nerves. Her orthopedic doctor informed her that he sees an injury like hers about every five years. She has plates and rods holding the pelvic bones together. She started physical therapy the following day.

“They had to roll me a few times every day to prevent bed sores,” Franks said. “They did not use a back brace. I heard popping and felt things moving.”

Another X-ray revealed a damaged vertebra just above the tailbone.

Franks had another surgery two days later to replace the vertebra with a cadaver bone and plastic, which was fused together with rods and screws. 

She also had an extensive “degloving” injury. A section of skin on her lower back was ripped open and peeled back, but not completely torn off. It was put back into place with staples.

She then stayed a week at the Miller-Dwan Rehabilitation facility in Duluth.

“I had to relearn how to move with my injuries. I also had to meet with psychologists and social workers to take care of the details for when I returned home,” she said.

She was released a week later with a five-pound lifting restriction and no bending, lifting or twisting.

Franks and her husband Ryan returned home to Alexandria on Saturday, April 25.

The following Monday she was able to surprise her students at the Pops Concert at the Bertha-Hewitt School, where she received a warm welcome.

“Our church has been super supportive,” Franks said. “I have a list of emergency contacts I can use if I need help with transportation and anything I may need help with. They have been bringing lots of food, which is great since I can’t cook right now. It takes a lot of effort to move and be conscious of my movement since I cannot put weight on my leg. I don’t have the stamina,” she explained.

“This has been stressful on Ryan. He has two weeks left of school and I want him to focus on that and homework instead of worry about the dishes and garbage. He has been pulling my weight and his,” she said.

Ryan is a student in the law enforcement program at Alexandria Technical and Community College and is an active member of the Army Reserves.

Franks plans on returning to work this fall. She signed up for a summer job assisting middle school children at a day camp. She hopes to work there toward the end of summer to rebuild her stamina.

“The accident could have been much worse. It could have left me paralyzed. It could have hit my head and given me a traumatic brain injury, or I could be dead. I am grateful for how it ended up,” Franks concluded.


Family and friends are planning a benefit for Amber Franks in her hometown of Perham on Saturday, May 30 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School. The event will include a bake sale, silent auction, live raffle and lunch. Donations may also be sent to “Amber Franks Benefit,” Bremer Bank, 801 Market Drive, Perham, MN 56573.

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