First-grader makes a comeback

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 2, 2001

All of the students recognized at Banfield School’s assembly on Wednesday have a story that makes them special, but this is about one student in particular – Alex Bongard.

Friday, March 02, 2001

All of the students recognized at Banfield School’s assembly on Wednesday have a story that makes them special, but this is about one student in particular – Alex Bongard.

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Last summer, Alex, a first-grader, sustained severe injuries after being run over by a Dodge Durango near his home. Alex, who has von Willebrand’s disease, could have easily bled to death as the result of his injuries.

Von Willebrand’s disease is not a disease, actually. It is a genetic blood disorder 100 times more common than hemophilia. Named by Erik von Willebrand, a Finnish physician, after himself, the disorder causes an abnormality of the protein in the blood that affects platelet function. A platelet is a minute disc in the blood, which helps in blood clotting. When there is a disorder of the platelets, they do not gather properly after injury, causing uncontrolled bleeding.

On Aug. 23, Alex was skateboarding outside his home. Because it was hot, he took off his shoes, socks and shirt, leaving just his underwear and shorts on. While lying on the board, he skated down a wheelchair ramp and was run over by the back wheel of a sport utility vehicle.

"I was hanging onto the ramp and I just got runned over," Alex said.

"The guy didn’t realize he’d hit a child," Alex’s mother, Brenda Arnold, said.

Arnold’s neighbor pushed the car from off Alex, after the SUV’s wheel sat on top of the boy for well more than a minute. After extracting him from under the vehicle, Arnold cradled Alex in her arms until the ambulance arrived. He was taken to the hospital and later flown to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester with second- and third-degree road burns on his back. In addition, he had internal bleeding in both lungs and his abdomen. Blisters covered the tips of his toes and his knees.

"Within 24 hours, they were talking skin graft," Arnold said. The added complication of Alex’s von Willebrand’s disease made his condition even more critical. He was in the intensive care unit for two days and was given multiple blood transfusions to keep him alive. He remained in the hospital for a week and underwent physical therapy for a month.

"He had that tread mark on his chest for three days," Arnold added.

Alex said the lotion doctors gave him to put on his back "smelled like marker." The lotion, a 1 percent solution of silver sulfadiazine, called thermazene, caused the raw skin on his back to stick to the sheet on his hospital bed. Today the effect of the accident, a scarred back, is hidden beneath his long-sleeved shirt. Arnold said she believes the scar will completely heal in time.

The emotional scars are healing, too. After the accident, Arnold said she would wince when she saw a Dodge Durango, but now she looks on the vehicles with wonder, remembering all her son has gone through and how far he has come.

Arnold believes divine intervention brought Alex through his ordeal. Ten days after the accident, he told his mother it was really hard for him to stay alive. When Arnold asked him what he meant he said, "When I couldn’t breathe, your friend was breathing for me." Arnold asked what friend and Alex answered, "Your friend in heaven, Amy."

Arnold had a friend named Amy who died of breast cancer years before. Alex went on to tell his mother Amy had been with him under the car and in the helicopter that took him to Rochester. According to Alex, Amy also slept with him in the hospital one night. One night when he was in ICU, Arnold awoke to find that Alex had stopped breathing while she slept. Arnold believed Amy was with Alex on that night.

"He said even better than breathing was the way he felt when she held him," Arnold said, of the feelings Alex had for the ethereal visitor, Amy, when she visited him in the critical hours after his accident.

After school started in the fall and he was on the path to recovery, Arnold said Alex had behavioral problems and was getting into trouble. And "he slept through a fire drill," Arnold said. "He was sleeping all the time."

Over time, however, Alex has improved steadily, both physically and mentally. His incredible progress in the months since the accident precipitated first-grade teacher Gerry Rustad nominating him for the award.

On Wednesday, Alex took his place in front of the assembled Banfield Elementary School students to receive an award for the progress he has made in school since the beginning of the year, in the months following his accident. The certificate states Alex was being presented with the award for "doing nice things for others and sharing with his classmates."

"Alex has really grown up and become an excellent first-grader," Banfield Principal Candace Raskin said of the award Alex received Wednesday.

As Arnold said with a laugh, the doctors said Alex showed himself to be "Dodge tough."

Information about von Willebrand’s disease can be found at either: or