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EGF man promotes helmet use after injury in ATV crash

When 28-year-old Nathan Satterlund went cruising on his four-wheel ATV with friends this spring, he didn't think he was doing anything particularly dangerous or life threatening.

When 28-year-old Nathan Satterlund went cruising on his four-wheel ATV with friends this spring, he didn't think he was doing anything particularly dangerous or life threatening.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

Nate was thrown from his ATV, suffering multiple broken facial bones, broken vertebrae in his neck and lower back, a broken arm and many cuts that required stitches.

He said 80 percent of the injuries could have been prevented if he had been wearing a helmet during that fateful ride.

Now, almost three months after the crash and still in recovery, the East Grand Forks man hopes to promote helmet safety in adults, or at least encourage parents to instill helmet-wearing as a lifelong habit in children.


Hits parked ATV

April 19, Satterlund was out with about 20 other riders, searching in a sparsely populated area of northeastern Kittson County, Minn., for another in the group whose ATV broke down.

As the group trekked down a dirt road, the ATVs churned up a lot dust. And when the stalled vehicle was discovered, Satterlund was at the back of the group. He came upon a parked ATV, and before he could stop or swerve, he hit it.

Nate only has vague memories of the crash and its aftermath -- he was in a medically induced coma for about five days afterward, said his wife, Jaci.

Nate was in the hospital for 30 days after the crash -- 20 days in a Twins Cities hospital and another 10 in Altru in Grand Forks. He still wears a halo, which limits his mobility while his broken vertebrae heal. He's expected to have at least one more surgery to remove the plates that have held his face together. And after that, he expects more multiple surgeries to correct the bone loss in his jaw.

"I lost six or seven weeks total of work; my doctor's bills are in the $200,000 range. If we didn't have good insurance, we'd be screwed," he said. "A lot of that could have been avoided if I had just been wearing a helmet."

Never a concern

Nate and Jaci, who is from Kennedy, Minn., and 18-month-old son, Jacob, often visit Kittson County to see Jaci's family and many of their shared friends. And for Nate and Jaci, both say that while they were growing up, helmet safety was never a concern.


Nate said the only time he used a helmet was when he was riding a snowmobile.

"We had to wear helmets because it was so cold out," he said. "I never considered it for an ATV while I was four-wheeling or just putzing around on hunting land."

It wasn't the cool thing to do.

"I'd like to see helmet use become more acceptable, so those who aren't wearing them aren't making fun of the people who are," he said. "If we can get through to some people, get them to wear a helmet, and people who don't have them don't look down on those who do, then, maybe, instead, they'll think about wearing one."

None of the riders in his group that day wore a helmet, Nate said. And he said it's rare to see an ATV rider with a helmet on -- adult or youth.

But Nate said he's not going to lobby the state to change helmet laws. And he's not trying to tell adults what they need to do when riding an ATV or motorcycle.

"I'd like to see people encourage, if not make their children wear helmets," he said. "I think a child is more apt to continue wearing one later on."

That's why -- during a benefit dinner for the family scheduled tonight in Kennedy -- Nate wants to raffle off the opportunity for 10 helmets. There are at least two donated helmets that'll be available; otherwise, area businesses have donated gift certificates so a helmet can be purchased.


No matter how careful, how prepared or how well you drive an ATV or a motorcycle, you can't control everything on the road, Nate said.

Nate and Jaci say Jacob already has a helmet, and won't go without one even as he scoots around on his toddler bike in the driveway.

And despite the terrible crash, Nate's not giving up his ATV.

"I've already got my plans to go on it again, except this time with a helmet," he said.

Reach Nadeau at (701) 780-1118; (800) 477-6572, ext. 118;

or send e-mail to snadeau@gfherald.com .

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