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Teenage burn victim recovers with inspiring strength
SEPT. 30, 2013
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Benefit Oct. 6 for Evan Menke and family

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

DASSEL, MN – Four months after 16-year-old Evan Menke suffered third-degree burns over nearly half of his body stemming from a campfire accident, his strength and determination continues to inspire those who know him.

Although the Dassel-Cokato High School junior has been faced with a new set of challenges, Evan maintains his attitude toward life is “you have to play your cards” and deal the hand God has dealt you.

Recounting the events on May 18 isn’t easy for either Evan or his father, Eric, who also suffered third-degree burns on his hand.

The spring day was meant to be a fun guy’s outing of golfing and then camping at Collinwood Regional Park with a group of family friends, including close friend Marty Boerboom, also from Dassel. The day would quickly turn tragic, however.

The accident occurred when Eric went to light the campfire using a liquid accelerant. The flames went out of control and Evan, who was standing next to the fire, became inflamed.

Fellow campers immediately rushed to assist.

“Everybody was unbelievable,” Eric said, including a camper, who he suspects was a medical professional.

Mary Menke, Evan’s mother and Eric’s wife, was in Iowa for a girls’ weekend when she got the call from Eric.

He told her the news wasn’t good, that Evan had been burned and he would call her back with an update after the ambulance arrived.

When Eric called back, Mary said she could only recall hearing three words – “Evan, intubated (breathing tube), and air care.”

As a registered nurse who works at Meeker Memorial Clinic in Dassel, it was then she realized the severity.

Evan suffered third-degree burns on 40 percent of his body and would spend the next 37 days in the Hennepin County Medical Center’s burn unit. It’s typically a day for each percent of the body that was burned, the family noted. Eric also received third-degree burns on his hand while trying to extinguish the fire. Both would need skin grafting, a process of transplanting skin.

Evan’s worst burns were on the right side of his neck and shoulder, along with his left hand, which were 80 percent grafted. His right side was 30 percent grafted, Mary explained, noting that as part of the grafting procedure, the doctor used skin from Evan’s thighs and scalp.

Grafting was not an option, however, for reconstructing the skin on Evan’s neck, which had been burned down to the muscle.

Instead, doctors used a product called INTEGRA, which uses shark cartilage to help build a layer of skin which can later be grafted.

Evan’s face, chest, and stomach received second-degree burns, which have since healed. His knees were also burned.

The family was later informed that it was Mt. Dew that spared Evan’s face, which was thrown on him as a first reaction by Marty’s brother, Rick, who was standing nearby.

After numerous reconstructive surgeries, Evan was released from the hospital June 24.

The healing had been progressing just fine, Mary said, until mid-July, when Evan began having problems breathing and became severely short of breath.

After he was readmitted to the hospital, it was found his symptoms were a result of scar tissue that had begun building on his vocal chords and was constricting his airway. Evan’s vocal chords had also been damaged as a result of the fire from breathing in the heat.

A procedure that dilated the vocal chords corrected the problem, though the doctor advised it would only be short-term and warned the family that it would most likely reoccur within two week’s time.

Evan was given the news that he would likely never be able to do any strenuous activities, including play basketball, a sport he loved only second to golf.

After two weeks, Evan proved the doctor wrong and he has not had any reoccurrences.

“So, we’re just in a holding pattern,” Mary said, explaining that one of Evan’s vocal chords doesn’t work, and the other over- compensates. The next option could be complete vocal chord reconstruction.

Healing is a process

As far as Evan’s burns, they are healing as planned. For the next 14 months, however, he will continue to wear a molded plastic neck brace 23 hours a day.

The brace is used to apply pressure on the scar so that it doesn’t constrict and limit his movement.

Evan also must wear compression garments on his arms for one year to help smooth the scars, and also needs do a lot of stretching and physical therapy in order to sustain mobility.

Evan still pays weekly visits to the doctor, which is actually down from a daily routine after he was first released. He has also moved from a two-hour dressing change to a few band-aids, Mary noted.

As far as Evan’s vocal chords, the magic mark is six months. If he can make it to that, it’s likely he won’t need anymore surgery, Eric noted.

“His attitude was just amazing,” said Eric of his son during recovery.

Evan is eager to get his life back to as normal as it can be, Eric said, and with that determination, he has been meeting and exceeding goals set by his doctors.

Evan is excited to be back driving a car and is even back out on the basketball court, though he still gets tired. He even played in the Powder Tuff volleyball game during DC’s homecoming festivities recently.

“He’s tougher than I ever thought he was,” Eric said, adding that he was out golfing less than a month after he was first released from the hospital.

‘God has a plan’

After the family was informed that Evan would likely never be able to play basketball due to the vocal chord damage, Eric became upset at himself thinking that he took that sport away from his son.

Evan quickly tried to assure his dad that wasn’t the case.

“He thought that [basketball] meant the world to me,” Evan said. Basketball, rather, was only a small part of his life, and family meant so much more to him.

“It was an accident,” Evan said recalling the conversation with his dad. “God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.”

“[God] knew we could all take it,” Evan said, adding that his mom and two sisters had come to grips with the accident.

“Everybody was taking it, but Dad,” he said.

At that point, Evan told his dad it was time for him to come on board, too.

“It’s amazing coming from a 16-year-old boy,” Eric said recalling the conversation with his son that day. “He’s an impressive young man.”

For Eric, it’s been tough dealing with the accident and the injuries his son sustained from it.

“I’m working on it,” he said, adding that he continues to pray and talk with his priest.

Seeing the continued progress in his son, however, helps him become even more at peace.

“Every day that he gets better, it’s great therapy for me,” Eric noted.

A community of support

The Menkes are grateful for the care and support they have received by everyone from the first responders and doctors to friends and coworkers.

“The care we got was second to none,” Eric said, expressing appreciation to the Cokato Ambulance Service and the team at Hutchinson Hospital and HCMC.

“It’s amazing what we’ve got here,” Mary said, explaining HCMC is one of the top 10 burn units in the nation.

With Evan being in the hospital for 37 days, Eric and Mary were able to take off work during that time to stay in the Twin Cities near their son.

Coworkers of Eric’s at Hutchinson Technology, and Mary’s at Meeker Memorial, donated their own vacation days to allow them time off.

For a family who moved here from Iowa in 2007, with no immediate family around, “We don’t feel isolated,” Mary said, adding that the generosity from the community has been humbling. Eric noted how great it was that people made and delivered meals to them.

“It’s amazing – the whole community,” Eric said. “You don’t realize what you have until something like this happens.”

Evan was also showered with visitors, cards and gifts during his hospital stay.

Since the accident happened in the midst of Evan’s high school golf season, teams within the conference sent him gifts. One team even sent a pack of Titliest Pro V1 golf balls.

“I would use them, but they have ‘Annandale’ on them,” Evan joked.

Menke benefit Sunday

The generosity of their friends and the community is once again being proven with a benefit to help the family with current and ongoing medical expenses, set for Sunday, Oct. 6 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. John’s Education Center.

“This is the least we can do for the impact that Evan’s spirit and determination has had on us,” said Kelly Babekuhl, family friend and one of the organizers of the benefit.

The benefit will include a “build-a-burger” meal with a free-will donation, along with a golf chipping contest, silent auction, and free throw contest.

Cash donations may also be dropped off at the Farmers State Bank of Darwin/Dassel or mailed to PO Box 160, Dassel, MN 55325, and made payable to “Menke Benefit.”

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