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4-year-old boy’s tragic lawnmower injury turns into miracle recovery

Family shares message in hopes of preventing other children from getting hurt

It was a warm and muggy Sunday afternoon in July 2013. The Hoeft family was doing some yardwork at their Princeton home.

Jake was on the riding lawnmower in the front yard. His wife, Melissa, was mowing in the back. Their oldest son, Hunter, who was 4-years-old at the time, was playing. Moments later, a tragic accident occurred.

“I didn’t even know he was there,” Jake said. “He came up behind me and I didn’t see him.”

Jake shouted to Melissa, as he picked up the riding lawnmower and threw it aside like it was nothing.

“There were so many things going through my head. You just can’t believe that it happened,” Jake said.

Hunter’s leg was severely injured. After two days and two separate surgeries, doctors in St. Cloud told the family they had done all they could do. Hunter needed to be at a trauma center.

A family connection brings Hunter to Regions

Melissa’s aunt, who is a trauma nurse at Regions Hospital, encouraged her niece to bring Hunter to St. Paul. Hunter had 10 surgeries from July to November.

“That is what it took to save his leg,” said Dr. Peter Cole, Chief of Orthopaedics at Regions Hospital.

Find out how this year’s Wine Auction will benefit patients like Hunter.

“All of the doctors and nurses stayed so calm,” said Jake. “It just seemed like you were their family. And you knew that they were going to take care of him.”

Despite the drastic injuries, Dr. Cole knows that children have an amazing ability to heal. Because of that and the fact that there was still some blood supply to Hunter’s foot, he believed his leg could be saved.

Hunter walks again

Three months after Hunter was brought to Regions Hospital, Dr. Cole shot a video of Hunter walking.

“I didn’t think he’d ever be able to walk again,” Jake said. “And to see him (take steps). I was just so happy.”

Today, Hunter looks like any other 8-year-old on the playground, racing from ladder to slide and back to ladder again. Each step with a smile on his face, and thankful parents looking on.

“What’s amazing is that his function is basically 100 percent and his pain is zero,” said Dr. Cole.

Four years ago, Melissa and Jake were scared. They didn’t know if their oldest son would ever walk again. What they found, was that their little boy is a fighter.

“Nothing holds him back,” Melissa said. “He’s ambitious. If he wants something, he goes and gets it.”

And they also found Dr. Cole, along with the teams at Regions Hospital and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, where Hunter continues to receive care.

“Four years ago. We would have never thought that we would be where we are today,” Melissa said. “We are very grateful.”

“There is a tremendous satisfaction in taking something that is broken and fixing it,” said Dr. Cole. “But what makes this situation even more special, is that Hunter really does feel like a family member because he is so closely connected to one of our own.”

Lawnmower safety tips

Dr. Cole believes society needs to do a better job educating the public about lawnmower safety.

“For me, they are the saddest cases because not only are these injuries gruesome, but often it’s a dad who was operating the lawnmower.”

For more tips on go to our recent blog post on lawnmower safety.

Dr. Cole says the best advice is to keep children inside whenever a lawnmower is running.

Helping others like Hunter

The Regions Hospital Foundation Wine Auction will be held on Saturday, September 16. Proceeds from the event will help fund a program called the Regions Hospital Orthopaedic Trauma Center. Funding will be used to enhance care for patients, promote the discovery and innovation in the area of fractures and injury and educate the next generation of specialists to handle these types of catastrophic injuries.

For more information about this year’s Wine Auction, go to

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