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Mother's Day: After accident, Lee family grateful for newborn's health

Five-month-old Samuel is the newest addition to the Lee family, which includes dad Ryan, mom Heidi, Ethan, 5, at left, and Nolan, 3. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - It wasn't until Heidi Lee was able to hear his heartbeat that she was finally able to relax.

Lee, 36, was 33 weeks pregnant when she was hit head-on by an driver, allegedly drunk at the time, last Halloween afternoon.

As she awaited rescue in the moments that followed - she was pinned between the steering wheel, seat and airbags - Heidi never once felt the baby move inside her.

"I didn't think he'd probably make it," Heidi recalled.

Meanwhile, she focused her energy on her then-2-year-old son, Nolan, who was safely secured in his Graco car seat behind her in the Honda Odyssey. Nolan was removed from the vehicle at her request by passersby Rhonda and Rick Studer of Excelsior, Heidi saw smoke coming out of her minivan and she was afraid it might catch fire.

She called her husband, Ryan, and she waited, wondering if the baby was OK.

It wasn't until after she was extricated from the vehicle and placed into a helicopter to be airlifted to Fargo, N.D., that she finally heard reassurance; medical staff had located the baby's heartbeat.

"That was beautiful," she said. "It was beautiful."

Samuel was born Dec. 5, 10 days before his due date. Offering frequent, toothless baby grins, the easy-going 5-month-old is now growing up alongside his attentive, loving brothers Ethan, 5, and Nolan, now 3.

"Each moment, just watching them play, it's special," Heidi said. "After the accident, I'd cry, thinking how lucky I am, that I can be here with them and still be their mom."

Heidi and her sons spent the morning talking about their plans for that Halloween evening. Then, she and Nolan dropped Ethan off at preschool, heading back toward home just before 1 p.m.

She was driving the Odyssey south on New Bass Road Northeast, coming around a curve, when a 1987 Dodge Caravan swerved into her lane, hitting her head-on.

She didn't see the Caravan, driven by 46-year-old Anthony Dwayne Calloway of Bemidji, until the very last moments before the crash, which killed 47-year-old Dawn Marie Boyd of Bemidji, a passenger in Calloway's vehicle. Calloway, who allegedly had a .16 blood-alcohol content at the time of the crash, has pleaded not guilty to two charges of felony vehicular homicide or operation.

Nolan, facing forward in his car seat, walked away without a scratch. Heidi, however, suffered numerous injuries, including bruising, scrapes and a broken knee cap.

She didn't immediately know if she was OK. She was worried about internal injuries, and, as a former nurse, she kept asking for her blood pressure.

Ryan was working at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, where he has been the director of the pharmacy department for the last two years. Heidi was able to call him herself, having been handed a cell phone by Rick Studer. Ryan immediately left work and came to the scene.

"We're so thankful for everyone, the bystanders, the police, the emergency workers," Heidi said. "We were very impressed by everyone's help."

Notably, in the minutes following the crash, Heidi never felt movements from her unborn baby.

"I didn't feel him for quite a few days (after the crash)," she said.

She was flown to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, remaining there for two days as she and the baby were constantly monitored.

Heidi and Ryan, who will mark their seventh wedding anniversary this June, didn't know the sex of the baby, just as they didn't know with their firstborn. They had another chance to find out while in Fargo, but they figured they had waited this long, why not hold out until the birth.

Once doctors confirmed that the placenta was healthy, Heidi was released.

Meanwhile, friends and family rallied around the family, offering frequent prayers for their healing and safety.

"Miraculously, we're here," Heidi said. "I give God that credit."

This weekend will mark a very special Mother's Day for the Lees, who will celebrate with Heidi's mom in Grand Rapids.

Heidi, upon returning home from Fargo, still had a lot of recovering to do. Her mother, Connie Engesser, came and lived with the family for two weeks to help.

"We're very thankful she could be with us," Heidi said.

Proximity to family was one of the reasons the couple moved to Bemidji two years ago. With Ryan's family in Fargo and Heidi's in Grand Rapids, Bemidji was centrally located.

That helped when, again, Connie, moved in with the Lees for another week once Samuel was born.

While his delivery was routine, Heidi said feelings from the accident resurfaced in the hospital, when Samuel was taken into the nursery for his newborn assessment.

"It was definitively very emotional," Heidi said. "I kept telling myself, 'He's here, he's alive.'"