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Menahga residents recovering from crash

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It has been almost four months since the accident on the outskirts of Menahga, yet the memories of the incident are still very present.

It was Sept. 4 and Damien Longhi was off to his first day of school at Menahga High School. He was carpooling with his cousin, Mike Bierdemann, and neighbor, Ernie Freeman.

"For some reason I had a bad feeling in my stomach, this really bad feeling," said Katie Rippentrop, mother to Longhi, 15. Her intuition turned out to be correct.

Her son, along with Bierdemann and Freeman, had been in a major accident about four miles from their home on 380th Street. All three were airlifted to larger hospitals. Longhi and Freeman were airlifted to North Memorial in Robbinsdale and Bierdemann was airlifted to Essentia Health in Fargo, N.D.

Longhi has been at Gillett's Children's Hospital in St. Paul undergoing intensive rehabilitation. He was expected to be coming home the end of December, where he will receive outpatient therapy at Green Pine Acres in Menahga and attend school in Sebeka.

Bierdemann went to Heritage Living Center in Park Rapids to recover from his injuries and is now home doing outpatient therapy.

Freeman went to Bethesda in St. Paul. He then went to Golden Valley Rehabilitation Center until he is able to return home to his family.

The accident is still under investigation but the family has been on the mend since the tragic day Sept. 4.

"After the accident we kept on praying," Rippentrop said. "They said at first Damien might not wake up, they predicted he was maybe deaf or blind," she said.

But he has come a long way and is starting to remember people.

"It's just amazing," Rippentrop said.

Freeman and Bierdemann have also been making a recovery.

Rippentrop calls Damien's situation a miracle because even before the accident he has had medical problems.

"He has dealt with a brain cyst since he was a baby," she said. "He has been in and out of the hospital."

The cyst was still in his head but it wasn't touched during the accident.

"It was like God protected that cyst and his life," Rippentrop said.

The accident and recovery period has been difficult for the family but they remain positive.

"We've been finding blessings in everything," she said. "All three of them are alive when they said no one should have survived from that."

A benefit is being held to offset medical costs, equipment charges and travel expenses for the three men.

A free will offering dinner and silent auction is from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 6 at the Sebeka American Legion. The menu includes sloppy Joes, chips, pasta/potato salad and bars. Donations for a silent auction can be dropped off at the Legion by Jan. 4, or contact Ann at 218-539-0242 or Becky at 218-255-5194.

Monetary donations can be sent to the benefit account for Damien Longhi, Mike Bierdemann and Ernie Freeman at First National Bank of Menahga at 21 Main St. NE, Menahga, MN 56464.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561