- Associated Press - Monday, May 26, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The first time MaKenzi Rooksberry flew in a helicopter, she was strapped to a stretcher and her life was in danger.

On Sunday, she was riding in that same helicopter in the co-pilot seat - along with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck - when the IU Health LifeLine helicopter landed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before the start of the Indianapolis 500.

MaKenzi, an 11-year-old Jasonville resident, was selected by Riley Hospital at IU Health along with another Riley kid to cruise high above the city and land at Turn One at the track.

They then buckled up with Luck in an official Indy 500 pace car for a lap around the track to deliver the green flag that would signal the start of the race.

“It was awesome! My favorite part was getting to ride in the co-pilot seat this time - and not on a stretcher,” said MaKenzi, who wore silver sparkly sandals and a red, white and blue sequined bow. “On the ride over, we talked about how people looked like giant ants.”

MaKenzi did not remember her first helicopter ride in winter 2013, after she received serious injuries in a sledding accident at Deming Park in Terre Haute. MaKenzi was selected by Riley at IU Health for Sunday’s once-in-a-lifetime helicopter experience for her strength and courage during her treatment and recovery.

Her parents, Frank and Toni Rooksberry, were with MaKenzi in Indianapolis on Sunday, along with her 15-year-old sister MaKayla and her grandmother, Irene Schauwecker. None of them had ever been to the Indy 500, and their star-studded treatment is something they won’t soon forget.

“We were very blessed that MaKenzi was chosen to do this,” Toni told the Tribune-Star as her family gathered in the IU Health suite at the racetrack to watch the greatest spectacle in racing. “It really floored us that they (Riley) remembered us a year and four months after that accident.”

Fortunately for MaKenzi, she does not remember the “bad” part of her injury and the pain of recovery, but her mother remembers the day when the family chose to return to the Terre Haute park where they had enjoyed sledding just days earlier. The family had attended church on a Sunday at Friendly Grove Baptist Church in southern Clay County and was discussing where to go sledding, when ironically, MaKenzi said she didn’t want to go to Shakamak State Park to sled because she was afraid she’d get hurt.

But it was on her first trip down the hill at Deming Park that her mother Toni watched in horror as her daughter hit a patch of ice that caused her sled to enter the road. The child bounced off the slow-moving car like a rag doll. As her family rushed to her side, MaKenzi was unconscious. Her eyes had rolled back into her head and her body was jerking. One of her snow boots had come off.

Paramedics stabilized the Shakamak Elementary student at the scene, and MaKenzi was rushed to a Terre Haute hospital where scans revealed she had a broken collarbone and a punctured lung, which was filling up with fluid and blood.

The decision was made to airlift the child to Riley at IU Health, home of the state’s only Level 1 pediatric trauma center. The trauma team was led by Dr. Thomas Rouse in the effort to save MaKenzi’s ailing lung. Chest tubes were inserted to keep the vital organ inflated and to drain the fluid that was pooling. If her lung didn’t respond, potentially part or all of it would need to be removed.

“Her injury was unusual and significant enough that it required three weeks in the hospital,” Rouse told a hospital spokesperson about the case.

The accident caused MaKenzi to miss her school dance - and she was in the running for “Snow Queen.” Sensing her disappointment, her nurses organized a “Snow Queen” celebration in her hospital room. Too sick to have her fingernails painted that day, MaKenzi cracked a smile when nurses crowned her with a tiara and wrapped a feather boa around her neck. This would later stand out as a bright spot amid an otherwise gloomy experience.

MaKenzi has made a full recovery, her mother said, and she enjoys playing softball and plans to run cross country.

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