Jessica Miles and Jeff Ernewein. From KSTP News. Posted on September 19, 2016. Original article.
Summers on the family farm are the best for 10-year-old Hinckley native Amber Rose Kordiak.
That was until an accident nearly killed her three years ago. The farm accident crushed what most people notice first: her face.
In the last three years, Amber Rose has gone to countless doctors appointments and surgeries to try to fix the damage.
After several hospitals said they had done all they could, a world renowned facility stepped in to help change her life.
It was a beautiful summer evening on July 6, 2013.
The Kordiak kids had spent the day outdoors. The then-7-year-old Amber Rose was ready for bed, but being the daddy’s girl she is, she went outside to see if he needed any last minute help.
“I said, ‘OK hurry up because you’ve got to go to bed soon,’” Amber Rose’s mother, Jen Kordiak, said.
Amber Rose’s father, Jesse Kordiak, was gathering up calves to vaccinate them in the morning, and asked Amber Rose to go back in and wait.
On her way, a huge 600-pound tractor tire leaning against the barn caught her eye. Amber Rose stepped up onto it.
“I yelled not to play on that, but I didn’t get it all the way out and it went over on top of her,” Jesse said.
The 6-inch metal rim sliced right through her face.
“As soon as it went over, I ran over there and lifted it up and I just tried to hold her face together,” Jesse said. “I just thought she was going to die right there.”
Calling 911 on the way, the Kordiaks drove to meet the ambulance.
“I just kept thinking, she’s not going to stop breathing on my clock,” Jen said.
Her injuries were so severe, Jen said even paramedics were in disbelief.
“They were standing there with their mouths open, they were frozen, they weren’t moving,” Jen said.
Amber Rose was airlifted to a Twin Cities hospital. She lost so much blood that her body went into shock, but remarkably her organs didn’t shut down, Jen recalled.
“I think she probably did die; I don’t know how she made it,” Jen said.
Amber Rose spent weeks in the hospital with her family by her side. Eventually she grew strong enough to go home.
Her family members say what she told them about the accident still gives them chills.
“When I went to heaven, I saw light beams of prayers coming up to heaven,” Amber Rose said.
When asked how she knew they were light beams of prayers, she responded, “Well, you know everything in heaven, so, I just knew.”
Amber Rose said she could see her family’s grief and frustration. She said she remembers wanting to come back to Earth.
“Because I didn’t want my family to be hurt,” she said, adding that she could see her family members were sad.
Over the next three years, Amber Rose walked the halls of numerous hospitals in the metro, visiting with doctors, having surgeries, dealing with a traumatic brain injury caused by the accident, and praying something could be done to fix her face.
“It’s a natural human instinct to stare at something you don’t understand, but she would get stares where people would walk into walls; they wouldn’t look away,” Jen said.
Jen said her daughter never asked, why me?
“It’s really hard for her, but she doesn’t let on, she doesn’t dwell on it,” Jen said.
A New Hope
Dozens of doctors worked on Amber Rose, eventually saying they had done all they could do.
“We kept running into a doctor who had worked on an eye, or upper jaw, or lower jaw, or the nose, but none of them did all of it,” Jen said.
With fingers crossed, Jen reached out to Mayo Clinic.
Doctor Uldis Bite, a plastic surgeon, took Amber Rose’s case.
Now 10 years old, Amber Rose was about to embark on yet another journey; one her family wanted to share and they invited 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS to come along.
A 3-D model, made on the Mayo campus, helped Dr. Bite plan out the extensive facial reconstruction surgery Amber Rose was about to have.
On an early July morning, almost exactly three years to the date of her accident, Amber Rose walked nervously into Mayo Clinic, her entire family by her side.
“No one wants to let go of their baby, no matter how old they get,” Jen said.
It’s rare access, seeing a team of Mayo doctors in action in the operating room explaining as they go.
A custom piece of plastic was put into Amber Rose’s eye socket to lift her eye up; to do this, doctors needed to open her scalp.
They repositioned the corner of the eye, added rib bone to increase the projection of her nose, and took a plate off near the jaw to allow her mouth to work better.
“The hardest part for me is knowing they’re cutting my daughter up so much,” Jen said.
Eight hours pass, then 10, then 12. Mayo Clinic closes down for the night, but doctors continue to work
Fifteen hours after she walked into the hospital, Amber Rose was moved to recovery.
A tired, but pleased, lead surgeon emerged.
“Everything went fine with the surgery,” Dr. Bite said.
“I’m so pleased, I want to hug you, thank you so much,” Jen replied.
However, a parent’s relief was quickly re-focused to the little girl in terrible pain.
“Honey, honey, you’re OK, you’re OK honey,” Jesse said to his daughter.
Amber Rose had an ice pack covering both eyes and her little face was swollen. She had nerve pain all over her body and was on medication.
She would stay in the hospital for the next seven days.
“It’s pretty rough, but I need to be strong for her,” Jen said.
The Healing Process
Going home wasn’t much better; the pain continued day and night.
Amber Rose was placed on a strict diet and couldn’t play with her four siblings for fear rough-housing would damage her new face.
For her family, it was a difficult time.
“It’s hard to see someone you love in pain,” Christina Kordiak, Amber Rose’s sister, said.
“We’re all going to have to rely on each other to stay strong,” Angela Kordiak, Amber Rose’s sister, added.
Six weeks pass, and Amber Rose makes the four-hour trek back to Mayo. It was a trip that was taken often.
“I felt like I was waiting for this day because this was the first step for a new life,” Jen said.
Once again, we are right there by Amber Rose’s side, sharing in what has become a family journey.
“I think the position of the eye and the corners of the eye are dramatically improved, and if you look at her from the side, she now has a nasal bridge, which she didn’t have before,” Dr. Bite said.
“My nose looks way better,” Amber Rose said with a smile.
There was still a lot of swelling that needed to go down but the scars will eventually fade and already Amber Rose could see a difference.
“Nobody will stare at me; I’ll look different,” she said.
Amber Rose’s family says this bubbly, inquisitive little girl defines patience and understanding.
“I just love what she teaches us about love and people and mercy and beauty and she doesn’t even know she does it,” Jen said.
A survivor, who, at the young age of 10, has endured so much physically and emotionally, is still teaching lessons to the world and sharing her smile while doing so.
“When it first happened they told us our baby girl would never smile again, and her smile was amazing from day one,” Jen said. “She defied odds, and said, ‘I can’t frown, but I can smile’ and that’s what happened.”
Amber Rose has more surgeries scheduled; next up, a nerve and muscle transplant for her face muscles that are frozen and an eye lid lift for her right eye. As her face grows with age she will need more surgeries, but for now, doctors say they are pleased, and Amber Rose is, too.
Amber Rose makes a point of smiling and waving at people when they look at her. She said she wants the rest of us to do the same to strangers.
It’s a simple message, but one that can brighten someone else’s day. Amber Rose calls it the Wave of Waves, something that she hopes will be ongoing.
As you can imagine the medical bills continue to mount, and the monetary challenges are steep.