A New Year for Rhen Fowler

Little girl OK after fall from balcony

By David Murray, New-Argus Reporter, Special for the I-O

The simple, wide-eyed joy of children on Christmas morning is, perhaps, a parent’s greatest holiday blessing. Excited squeals roust mom and dad their slumber. Groggily, they rise and shake off the night’s weariness - then watch as bright packages are excitedly torn asunder, revealing the long anticipated treasures concealed within. It is one of the most cherished rituals of this festive season.

In a hospital room in Denver this Christmas, one Montana family gathered to give prayerful thanks for a gift far more precious than anything that could have been hidden in a box or stowed beneath a tree – the life and continued improving health of their little girl.

Dec. 18, 20-month-old Lahren Fowler tumbled from a second floor balcony at the Yogo Inn and suffered a traumatic brain injury. The accident happened in a split second – a moment’s distraction while her family hurried to board the Polar Express Christmas train.  In the first hours of the crisis, Lahren’s parents, Kelli and Shawn Fowler, feared their daughter’s life could be lost. Lahren had a fractured skull and had to be resuscitated, then raced by ambulance to the Central Montana Medical Center and flown by chartered jet for treatment at the Denver Children’s Hospital.

Whether by luck, through the quick and skillful response of emergency responders, or by the grace of angels, little Lahren not only survived the fall, but continues to slowly improve with each passing day.

“She’s definitely doing as well as she can,” Shawn Fowler said Thursday. “Three of her extremities are definitely moving. Her right side is weaker than her left, but today we saw her right hand move a little bit. Her swelling has gone down, she’s strong and we really have high hopes of good recovery.”

One week ago, Kelli and Shawn Fowler could not have foreseen this Christmas would become so significant. At 20-months old their daughter, Lahren, was just old enough to begin to enjoy the wonders of Christmas. Maybe she didn’t understand the tale of jolly old Saint Nicholas and his reindeer, but little “Rhen” could certainly appreciate bright lights and presents, so it seemed natural that the family from Conrad should travel to Lewistown to take a ride on the Polar Express.

Together with another couple, the Fowlers checked into the Yogo Inn on the afternoon of Dec. 18. Shawn Fowler recalled how impressed Lahren was with the two grizzly bear statues at the hotel’s front entrance.

“The first time she saw them she gasped,” he recalled. “I asked her what a bear would say and she growled. Rehn loves animals, and she thought they were the coolest thing she had ever seen.”

Just before 6:30 p.m. that same day, the Fowlers hurried to leave and catch the Christmas train. On the main floor of the Yogo Inn’s pool area, another family was celebrating a birthday. At that moment of mutual happiness and excitement, tragedy struck.

“A lot of things happened all at once,” Shawn Fowler recalled. “The kids had their coats on and everybody was just about to leave. I don’t know if Rhen knew we were going on the train, but she knew something was about to happen and she was kind of feeding off the excitement of the other kids.”

“There was a birthday party going on down below us, and they had a piñata,” he continued. “Lahren had seen all the other kids down there.

In that mere second when the piñata broke, those kids yelled and Rehn ran out of the room. I think she went to grab the railing and just accidentally fell through.”

Rehn fell head first, down about 10 feet onto the hard concrete floor below. The little girl lay there limp and unconscious as her mother gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. When the Emergency Medical Technicians with Lewistown Fire/Rescue arrived a few minutes later, the situation seemed grim. Lewistown Fire Chief Jason Manley described Lahren’s medical condition at the time as being “very serious.”

“There were a lot of people in the lobby,” Manley recalled. “The family was having an extremely difficult time with it. They were extremely emotional. When you have a young child who’s seriously injured, it’s a much tougher scene than with an adult.”

Manley said his team administered CPR until the ambulance arrived. Lahren was rushed to CMMC, where her condition was stabilized, then she and her parents were flown directly to the Denver Children’s Hospital.

What might have seemed a near hopeless situation began to turn around on Monday. On CaringBridge.org - a free Web site for patients and their families – Lahren’s aunt, Kacey Bitney began posting updates.

“She is stable but critical this far,” Bitney wrote on Dec. 20. “She is responding to our voices and held on to her blankie tight when she got it. Papa talked to her about doughnut Saturday (a regular Saturday treat for Lahren) and she started to wiggle around. The movement shows us her little nervous system is up and running, so that’s a good thing. Right now we are all saying our prayers and just waiting for her numbers to get better.”

On Tuesday, Lahren’s aunt continued, “Her fever is almost gone and all of her numbers seem to be stable. They are going to slowly start tapering off some of her meds and see how her body does. She is a strong girl and is responding whenever her sedation meds get a little low. She knows we are with her and holds our hands.”

A recent post for Lahren reads, “Last night was a great night. She got to have a bath. They combed her hair and put pretty clips in it. The swelling and her coloring are looking a lot better. Her cranial pressure seems to have stabilized. They are hoping that they can take her off the ventilator by Christmas and at that point she will only be hooked up to an IV. We feel overwhelmed with the love and compassion that is being sent our way. It touches our hearts greatly.”

“It feels like it’s been five months since we got here,” Shawn Fowler said from the Denver Children’s Hospital. “But in four days, Rhen’s made leaps and bounds. It’s looking up, but it’s still going to be a long road for us. The doctor said we need to start looking at relocating to the Denver area for a few months. This is definitely going to be a life changing event for us.”

He added his deep and heartfelt appreciation to the people of Lewistown for all the help his family received in their time of crisis.

“The first responders and the police officers, the nurses and the doctors, everybody did a top-notch job for us,” Shawn Fowler said. “I love going to Lewistown – it’s such a pretty town. We are all grateful to everyone who’s helped us through this tragedy.

Editor’s note: Re-printed by permission. Rhen Fowler is the granddaughter of Agnes and Tony Fowler and Bill and Kerry Conrad of Conrad. Her uncle is Jody Fowler. Her parents, Shawn and Kelli are CHS graduates.

Approximately three inches of her skull was removed to relieve pressure and she has started Physical Therapy.

To help defray medical expenses, a spaghetti feed (donation) is planned for Jan. 22 at 6 p.m. at the Pondera Golf Club. There will be a light auction with Jim Greer and music by Erik “Fingers” Ray. Watch the I-O for more details.