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September 10, 2003

Wallowa girl hurt in mule mishap

From: Wallowa County Chieftain, OR - Sept 10, 2003

By Elane Dickenson
of the Chieftain

Lelia Wortman, 15, Wallowa, a member of the Wallowa County 4-H Court, suffered a severe head injury caused by a runaway mule early Saturday evening at Hells Canyon Mule Days at the fairgrounds in Enterprise.

After undergoing emergency brain surgery to stop the bleeding, this week Wortman was improving rapidly at Deaconess Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., and taken out of the critical care unit to a regular room Monday.

“She’s improving every day,” said her mother, Schevelle Wortman, from the hospital Tuesday afternoon. “We’re hoping she might be able to come home Thursday.”

Saturday morning Wortman and her fellow 4-H court members, Katrina Anderson and Rayanna Mitchell, enjoyed themselves in the Mule Days parade, dressing up in comic mule costumes. As has become a tradition they also worked as volunteers during the mule show, though Mitchell had to leave early because of a job.

About 5 p.m. or shortly thereafter Wortman had taken over duty as the gate tender in the fairground arena from fellow court member Anderson when the accident occurred.

A mule ridden by Jaimie Berghammer, 13, Asotin, refused to stop after finishing the cloverleaf pattern in the barrel race and ran into the unlatched green gate behind which Wortman stood. According to some witnesses the mule reared up and actually scrambled over the gate.

Wortman was knocked down in the process, and was taken by ambulance to Wallowa Memorial Hospital.

Wortman, who is deaf, was reportedly not wearing a cochlear implant at the time of the accident, but it is not known what, if any, role that might have played in the accident.

“It all happened so fast,” said Anderson, who was one of the first on hand when her comrade fell and was the one to call 9-1-1. She said that emergency medical technician Connie Stein came out of the stands to help before the ambulance arrived.

According to friends of the family, Wortman underwent a CAT scan at Wallowa Memorial Hospital which detected bleeding in her brain, a life-threatening situation. She was flown to Spokane, where a neurosurgeon was available, about 9 p.m., and surgery was completed about 1:30 a.m.

In the meantime Berghammer fell off her mule during the incident, and was also taken to WMH where she was treated for minor injuries and released. The Asotin girl returned to ride in the Mule Days show Sunday, earning a bronze of a mule for the Sportsmanship award from the Mule Days committee.

Wortman is a sophomore at Wallowa High School, where she is a member of the volleyball, basketball and dance teams. She is a member of the 4-H Wallowa Livestock Club and the Thundering Hooves 4-H riding club.

“This happened so quickly and unexpectedly,” said her mother Tuesday, who is grateful to see Lelia improving so rapidly, attributing it to her youth. She is smiling, communicating through sign language and has color in her face again, her mother relayed.

Copyright © 2003 Wallowa County Chieftain