Rai Henninger Suffers Injury During a Firework Show
Rai Henniger, senior vice president of marketing for the Triple – A Colorado Springs Sky Sox baseball team, is a well-known fan.
Popular for his theme nights like “Bark in the Park” and “Animal Snout Night,” his dance moves on the field, and his fireworks displays.
May 12, 2007, was a special event for the Sky Sox. It was Fort Carson Appreciation Night, a time for the club to honor soldiers at the nearby Colorado Springs military base. The evening featured an 18-gun cannon salute, color guards on horseback, the Wings of Blue parachute team, Army generals throwing out the ceremonial first pitch and a fireworks show put on by Henniger.
Henniger began preparing the evening’s fireworks show at 2:15 p.m., behind the left field wall. He was about 10 minutes from the final step when something went horribly wrong and one of the mortar tubes mysteriously went off. Henniger was struck in the left side of the face by a two and a half inch spherical titanium shell.
Steve DeLeon, the team’s groundskeeper, who is certified in CPR and first aid, began administering care immediately. He was soon joined by two artillery solders from Fort Carson, Christopher Smith and Michael Cordosi, who had just returned from duty in Iraq and were experienced in first aid. The soldiers used towels to help stop the bleeding, and kept Henniger talking until the ambulance arrived.
Henniger was rushed to Memorial Hospital, in Colorado Springs where a neurosurgeon, plastic surgeon, and an eye specialist gave his wife, Heather, the news that Henniger had suffered facial fractures of the nose, eye socket, upper jaw and cheekbone, and an additional fracture through the base of the skull.
He had also suffered multiple soft tissue injuries, and his left eye was so badly ruptured, it had to be removed.
“It was like this cloud just enveloped us,” Heather said. “They used terms like ‘catastrophic’ and ‘devastating,’ and said Rai’s injuries were beyond their scope here in Colorado Springs.”
Doctors told Heather the best place for Henniger would be Denver Health Medical Center.
Henniger was flown to Denver Health by helicopter. He spent three weeks in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) in a drug-induced coma.
Chief of Surgery and Trauma Services Ernest E. “Gene” Moore, M.D., led the team of physicians who treated Henniger. The team performed several surgeries during Henniger’s stay to restore his face. Surgeons reconstructed his nose, using cartilage from his rib and ear, and used tissue expanders to expand his forehead skin and close other wounds.
“The nurses in the SICU were phenomenal,” said Heather. “They saw me when I was at my worst, and they stayed with me to make sure I was all right,” said Heather. “It is such a great team in the Denver Health SICU.”
Henninger has since returned to his home in Colorado Springs and while the reconstruction of his face is still a work in progress, he is able to find the positive. In his situation. He says the ordeal has strengthened his faith and increased his appreciation for his family. He is grateful to his doctors and nurses and the soldiers that initially saved his life on that fateful day.