Nine year old water skier’s leg saved in a boat propeller accident

dalton at home playing an in a wheelchair at the hospital, nine year old water skier’s leg saved in a boat propeller accident, orthopedic surgeon, suffered serious injuries, dr jacqueline geissler, peter leafblad, dr nick simpson

Dalton Northway loves to water ski. Ending his 4th-grade year this past May, his family was up at their lake home when a boat propeller accident turned a great day sour.

Dalton fell under a running boat propeller and suffered serious injuries. Quick thinking, teamwork, and emergency and police response expertise fell into motion, and Dalton was airlifted to Hennepin Healthcare’s Level I Pediatric Trauma Center.

When Kara Sjol, Dalton’s mom, arrived at HCMC, Dalton was already in surgery. A combination of trauma and vascular surgeons repaired the blood vessel to Dalton’s knee. This injury was a life and limb-threatening injury – the injury that almost cost Dalton his leg. The nerve injury also needed repair, so orthopedics was called into the surgery to assess the damage.

For Dalton’s second surgery, Dr. Jacqueline Geissler, an orthopedic surgeon, took over from there. All orthopedic surgeons at Hennepin Healthcare are trained in trauma orthopedics. Dr. Geissler also specializes in hand surgery. “The next biggest injury to Dalton in the knee was a nerve injury and”, according to Dr. Geissler, “hand surgeons specialize in nerve injuries”.

Dalton’s third surgery was needed because his injury happened in water. Dr. Geissler explains “This surgery was needed to clean and assess tissue health. Bacteria from the water can grow and if this happens, the outcome can be devastating.”

Because of COVID, orthopedic providers staggered on-campus roles weekly, so Dr. Geissler’s colleague Peter Leafblad, PA-C shared in Dalton’s care. Orthopedic providers at Hennepin Healthcare work closely in teams, so patients see the same providers and the providers come to know the patients and families well.

Dalton spent a week in the PICU, then 2-3 days in the inpatient unit. Dalton’s mom, Kara, a nurse herself, stayed there the whole time. About Kara, Dr. Geissler said, “I appreciated that she was always asking very thoughtful questions. Kara did a great job of coaching her son during a very difficult time for him.” Kara added, “the nurses were all so great in the hospital in both areas Dalton stayed”.

“We initially set Dalton’s knee in a bent position to protect the nerves and vessels,” explains Dr. Geissler. “As the nerve healed, we slowly stretched out his knee in weekly casting appointments.”

Sherriff Shawn Larsen with Morrison County (Morrison County’s county seat is Little Falls, MN) said, “The trauma surgeon told Dalton’s mother that the fast action and appropriate care in the field was amazing and ultimately saved Dalton’s life. Dalton’s leg was saved and he’s now walking which is a miracle in itself.”

Nick Simpson, MD, an HCMC emergency room doctor who treated Dalton stated, “You could not ask for a better outcome or better actions taken every step along the way with this case and with young Dalton who sits her before us today,” as he attended a recognition event at a Morrison County Board meeting for Dalton and the entire team who cared for him (right – Dr. Simpson is bottom right, Dalton is seated).

Looking forward to 5th grade, Dalton will see Dr. Geissler in September. Dalton attends physical therapy to address a small amount of limited motion and is still recovering. Hopefully this September, he will show Dr. Geissler even more improvement, as his mom said he is doing great.

Jacqueline Geissler, MD, is an orthopedic and trauma surgeon at Hennepin Healthcare, also specializing in hand surgery.

Peter Leafblad, MMSc, PA-C is an orthopedic physician assistant at Hennepin Healthcare.

Nick Simpson, MD, is an emergency physician with a fellowship in emergency medical services at Hennepin Healthcare.


  1. Beth on August 17, 2020 at 11:21 pm

    What a sweet outcome to an accident that could happen to anyone. This young man was able to handle difficult clinic visits because his mom did mom. I have learned I can deal with any childhood medical dilemma in a positive way when the parent is fully onboard and a sense of humor with a pinch of parenting is a plus and also helps the provider through a sensitive encounter.

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