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Bicycle accident victim receives a new bike

Four-year-old Courtney Silk, pictured with her grandmother, Jolene Silk, was presented with a new Disney princess bicycle Wednesday afternoon by Sgt. Jason Riggs on behalf of the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office. A reception was held in Courtney's honor at the Law Enforcement Center. Courtney was riding her bike in September when she was struck by a pickup truck. It is believed that her helmet saved her life. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Whenever 4-year-old Courtney Silk sees a police officer or firefighter, she gets excited.

"There's my friends," she cries.

Courtney went for an evening bike ride with her 12-year-old brother last fall. Cody's insistence that the toddler wear a helmet likely saved her life.

Courtney, then 3 years old, was riding her bike with Cody and two adults at about 7:20 p.m. Sept. 12 on Oak Hills Road Southeast when she was hit by a 2004 GMC Sierra pickup truck.

"Thank God Cody had the sense to make sure she had her helmet on," said their grandmother, Jolene Silk.

The helmet may have saved her life, but her injuries were still severe. Her right leg was shattered. Growth plates were broken. Her right hip was dislocated by 3 inches.

To date, Courtney has had five surgeries, including one this past Monday. She soon will endure another difficult surgery as doctors will try to get the leg to properly grow.

Doctors also aren't sure if her hip socket will hold; it could shatter at any moment.

"We smile and laugh through the tears," Jolene Silk said.

On Wednesday afternoon, there were a lot of smiles as Courtney's families and emergency responder "friends" gathered to celebrate her health.

"My firm belief is that she would not be here with us today if she had not been wearing this piece of protective equipment," said Sgt. Jason Riggs, with the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office, as he held up the damaged Dora the Explorer bike helmet, on which the marks from the pickup truck are still visible.

Courtney was presented with a new pink bicycle covered with Disney princesses.

"This is for you, Courtney," Riggs said.

Courtney, wearing a sparkling pink T-shirt, smiled, but was too shy to speak.

Riggs said local law enforcement and Dairy Queen partner each year to award area children and adults who are wearing helmets while bicycling, skateboarding or rollerblading with coupons for a free ice cream come.

"We thought maybe we could do one better," Riggs said, presenting Courtney with a full-sized Dairy Queen frozen cake, decorated with a bicycle and the words "Get well soon, Courtney."

Courtney's accident made 2010 an especially difficult year for the Silk family as Jolene Silk's husband, Courtney's grandfather, died in March.

To thank emergency responders for their work on Sept. 15, Jolene Silk asked her nephew, 15-year-old Caleb Blackbird of Bemidji, to sing a thank you song in Lakota to those in attendance.

The kids had been playing in the backyard, Jolene Silk said. She did not even know they had left until a car pulled into her driveway and someone told her, "Your baby has been hit."

Jolene Silk said it was about five hours before the extent of Courtney's injuries was known.

Courtney was taken to North Country Regional Hospital and immediately airlifted to North Memorial Medical Center. She was transferred to the University of Minnesota Medical Center the next day.

For two months after the accident, Courtney had to be in a spica cast, which starts at the chest and covers the hips and legs.

She still has a lot of pain. Jolene Silk said the child is in physical therapy 2-3 times a week and they work together on therapy more than four times a week.

"A lot of it is going to depend on her attitude," Jolene Silk said of Courtney's upcoming challenges.

Jolene Silk said she is honest with Courtney about her health and tells her of upcoming surgeries and procedures. But each time they head south to the Twin Cities, they mix in some fun, too, like taking advantage of their new membership to the Minnesota Zoo.

"I try to give her some positives with the negative," she said.

The pickup driver, Jeffrey Scott Johnson, 21, of Grand Rapids, said he was blinded by the setting sun at the time of the accident and did not see the girl on her bike in the roadway. He said he was going about 15-20 mph at the time of the crash.

The accident was determined to be just that; no citations were issued.

Jolene Silk said she has had an array of feelings about the accident.

"I don't hate him," she said of the driver. "His actions affected our lives and will affect her life for the rest of our lives. He has to live with (what happened) for rest of his life, too."