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Saving Dakota

LVHN Trauma Teams in Hazleton and Allentown Help Weatherly Teen Survive BMX Crash


Dakota Mehlig saw the skate park and couldn’t wait to try the jumps. The 14-year-old pedaled hard on his BMX bike and hit the first jump. He went airborne much higher than he expected.

Then came the landing. He lost control. The front tire twisted as his body slammed forward. The handlebar jammed into his stomach. He stood and walked a few feet. Then he sat back down.

“I couldn’t breathe,” he says.

His father, Kenny Mehlig, was headed to fill up his car with gas when his phone rang. “It was Dakota,” he says. “There was a rattle in his voice. I could tell there was something wrong. I raced back as fast as I could.”

He found Dakota hunched over, but lucid and able to walk. “I thought he’d gotten the wind knocked out of him,” Kenny says. Still, he decided to take his son to Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Hazleton to get checked out.

Kenny Mehlig didn’t know it then, but had he gone home, Dakota would have died. Here’s how teamwork between colleagues at LVH–Hazleton and LVH–Cedar Crest in Allentown saved Dakota’s life.

3:16 p.m. – Dakota walks into LVH–Hazleton. Triage nurse Roxanne Piampi, RN, sees him and knows it’s time to hurry. “He was just so pale,” she says. When she learns he fell off his bike, she knows many of his vital organs could potentially be injured – his liver, spleen, kidneys – increasing his risk for life-threatening internal bleeding. When Dakota complains of abdominal pain, “the spleen is the first thing I think of,” she says. Quickly, she gets him a wheelchair and rolls him into the emergency room (ER).

3:34 p.m. – “We could tell as soon as he came through the door that something was wrong,” says KC Willis, CRNP, emergency room nurse practitioner at LVH–Hazleton. Willis and an emergency medicine physician drop what they are doing to give Dakota immediate care. A “trauma alert” is called. A team of specialists rushes to his bedside. Caregivers cut off his clothes, connect him to IVs and a heart monitor, draw blood, bring him units of O negative (the universal blood type), and perform X-rays and ultrasounds. Kenny Mehlig calls his wife, Deanna Mehlig. “You need to be here,” he says. “I can’t do this by myself.”

She rushes to be by her son’s side.

3:45 p.m. – The ER team performs a focused assessment with sonography for trauma (FAST) scan of Dakota’s abdomen, finding blood where it doesn’t belong. Dakota is quickly moved down the hall to a computed tomography (CT) scanner.

3:56 p.m. – The CT scan shows blood pooling in Dakota’s abdomen. His spleen is badly torn. Willis arranges for MedEvac air transport to the Level 1 Trauma Center at LVH–Cedar Crest, where Dakota will receive the specialized trauma surgery he needs. “It’s a streamlined transfer process,” Willis says. “We’ve trained with them, so it’s easy to transfer a patient. They are familiar with our skills, and they know we know what we are looking at.”

4:18 p.m. – LVH–Hazleton colleagues stabilize Dakota and stop his bleeding. It’s part of their role inside a Level 4 Trauma Center.

4:35 p.m. – Dakota’s heart rate increases due to blood loss. He gets a unit of blood before he’s placed inside the MedEvac chopper.

4:45 p.m. – Dakota and his father are in the air and en route to Allentown. “The state gives us three hours to get patients out the door if they need to be transferred, and we did it in under 90 minutes,” says Alexandra Malenka, RN, trauma program coordinator at LVH–Hazleton.

Later that day – Dakota begins his recovery at LVH–Cedar Crest, where physicians make the decision to repair his spleen rather than remove it. This will help strengthen Dakota’s immunity in the years to come. He spends two days in the intensive care unit and 10 days total in the hospital. His mother, Deanna Mehlig, remains by his side 24/7, watching over him. “I knew he was going to be OK as I watched the doctors and nurses care for Dakota,” she says.

Today, Dakota is back home in full health.

“I’m so grateful for everything,” Kenny Mehlig says. “The care was phenomenal. They knew exactly what they were doing because they had dealt with injuries like this so many times before.”

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