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Aanenson earns WPD Life Saving Award

Dispatcher Tonya Aanenson stands with Gerald Fuerstenberg, whose arm was almost severed in a mowing accident, and Worthington Director of Public Safety Mike Cumiskey, who gave Aanenson the Worthington Life Saving Award on Monday.

WORTHINGTON -- When dispatcher Tonya Aanenson was informed she was to be a recipient of the Worthington Police Department Life Saving Award, she was pleased.

She also considers herself lucky to have been the person who got to help Gerald Fuerstenberg.

"I was doing my job," she stated. "I'm certainly appreciative, but the best gift I've gotten is that Gerald is doing so well."

A City of Worthington employee, Aanenson has 10 years of experience dispatching for the city and Nobles County. She knows the day she answered an emergency call from Fuerstenberg is one that she will always remember.

On Nov. 4, 2008, at approximately 1:24 p.m., a 911 call was picked up by Aanenson. On the other end was Fuerstenberg, who had been mowing ditches with a tractor and sickle mower when his foot slipped off a petal and he was thrown to the ground. During the fall, he dislocated his right shoulder and tore muscle in his right elbow.

Before he could get up, the mower spun in a circle and ran over his body, he said, pulling his left arm up over his face. The arm protected his face, but was almost severed from his body in the process.

"Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my arm get severed," Fuerstenberg explained.

Dazed, he got up, he said, and walked a few feet, thinking he could walk home. Then he saw his cell phone on the ground.

"It is a miracle he could even dial 911," Aanenson said. "And he was extremely clear when he gave his name, location and told me what happened."

Keeping a watchful eye on the runaway tractor, he calmly gave Aanenson directions. She paged the Wilmont First Responders and the Adrian Ambulance, then dedicated herself to keeping Fuerstenberg alert and talking. Having heard the call, a detective came in and took other incoming calls while Aanenson stayed on the line with Fuerstenberg.

"To keep him talking, I asked him if he could raise his arm," Aanenson explained. "He said, 'Dear, I don't have an arm.'"

Because Fuerstenberg was located in the northwest corner of the county, it took awhile for rescuers to get to him. While they waited, Aanenson kept asking questions and reminding him that help was coming. Both stayed as calm as possible, but Aanenson said she has never been as affected by a call as she was that day.

"I was so scared for him, but I was not going to let him not make it," she stated. "He was preparing to die."

Fuerstenberg asked Aanenson to call his wife and children and tell them how much he loved them.

"No, Gerald," she told him. "Help is on the way. Can you hear them coming?"

Eventually Fuerstenberg heard the sirens as rescuers approached. While waiting, Fuerstenberg had worried the tractor would come back and run him over again, but instead it landed in a creek. Responders saw the tractor and headed toward it.

"They are headed for the tractor," Fuerstenberg told Aanenson. "Tell them I'm over here."

The rescue personnel found him and prepared him for transport. Eventually he was life-flighted to a hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., then taken to the Twin Cities. His left arm was saved, but there is a long road of rehabilitation ahead, which has included surgeries and therapy. Told he would be in the hospital for up to three months, Fuerstenberg was actually home in little more than a month, and is very thankful of everyone who helped him.

"From dispatch to the first responders and ambulance crew, the individuals are all trained and it went just like it was supposed to," Fuerstenberg said. "They all went about and beyond to do their job. And I had a lot of angels watching over me."

After spending more than 15 intense minutes on the phone with Fuerstenberg, Aanenson wondered later how the man was doing.

"I knew instantly when the call was done that I needed to meet him," she said.

Shortly after getting out of the hospital, Fuerstenberg tracked her down at the Prairie Justice Center before she had a chance to contact him.

"I just wanted to tell her 'thank you,'" Fuerstenberg said.

He also visited with the Adrian Ambulance crew and thanked them, and is hoping to make it to the next Wilmont First Responder meeting so he can thank them in person as well.

Fuerstenberg insisted Aanenson kept him alive, but she disagreed.

"He did all the hard work," she said.

"She gets all the credit," he interjected, standing in the law enforcement center with both arms in slings. "I was just there."

"We were a good pair," she laughingly replied.

Fuerstenberg said he has been blessed with family and friends who care and are helping him on a daily basis. He plans to listen to the 911 call someday, when he is ready.

"I'm going to come back here," he said to Aanenson. "I want to be able to hug you with both arms."