Photo provided.

Peru teenager Max Fulton was lucky to see his 15th birthday in September.

On June 14th, Max was riding his ATV when he was struck by a vehicle on a road near his home. Local first responders correctly assumed that internal injuries were present and life-threatening. He was lifelined to Lutheran Hospital, where he stayed for 24 days.

But earlier this fall, Max was able to take a break from rehab and celebrate his birthday with family, friends, and even some first responders who helped on the day of his accident.

“I’m just happy to be alive,” Max said.

About 75 people attended the party, according to Max’s mother Laura Fulton. An array of friends, family, and eight first responders from four different agencies were in attendance.

Laura said it was a “very emotional” day.

“We were so appreciative of the first responders and felt so lucky to be able to thank them in person for the role they played on the day of Max's accident … although we could never really thank them enough,” she said.

Max said he couldn’t believe the first responders actually came to his party, and the message he wanted to share with them was simple: “Thanks for saving my life.”

“It makes you want to sing,” he said. “I can do so much more thanks to them.”

Max never saw any of the first responders the day of his accident, so it was “nice to meet them” at his party.

Laura said more than 40 first responders from seven agencies were on the scene of Max’s accident, and more than 80 visitors came to see Max when he was in the hospital.

“It was such a neat thing to see the people that Max has in his corner,” Laura said.

The call from the first firefighter on the scene to have Max airlifted for unseen, internal injuries was a crucial call, according to Laura.

“Max had to receive blood five times over the next two days due to the amount of blood he was losing internally,” she said.

Sarah Straeter, a flight nurse with Parkview Regional Medical Center, was on the helicopter that transported Max to Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne. She was also one of the first responders who attended Max’s birthday party.

Straeter said she remembers many details about transporting Max to Fort Wayne.

“I remember looking at Max and thinking he was a tough kid, hoping that he had the strength to get through whatever was ahead of him in the coming days,” she said.

Straeter said she was honored that Max’s family reached out in efforts to reconnect.

“I felt that if (the Fultons) went out of their way to track me down, I owed it to them to attend,” she said.

“It is not common to reconnect with a patient or (their) family,” Straeter said. “Occasionally, patients or family members will send thank you cards or drop off treats, but I don't think I have ever attended a party for a patient that I did not know personally on some level.”

Straeter said attending the party further solidified her career perspective.

“Reconnecting with Max and his family after his accident reminded me that these patients need hope and support,” she said. “Their healing processes are not speedy. The majority of our patient's will spend days or even weeks in the hospital.”

He has been going to physical therapy three times per week, and although he has been on a myriad of medications, he is beginning to come off some of them.

Max said rehab has been “no walk in the park,” but he is of the mindset that he is “lucky to even have the chance to recover.”

Laura used an analogy of dropping a stone in a pool of water to illustrate how actions can affect more individuals than they do in a moment. When a stone is thrown in the water, there is an initial splash, but ripples carry on and spread. She said the actions of the first responders and health care providers who helped Max have “rippled” across a community of family and friends who are forever grateful for them.

In lieu of gifts at Max’s party, it was requested that guests bring a donation to Mad Anthony’s Children’s Hope House, which provided comfort to the Fultons when Max was in the hospital. A total of $450 was donated by guests, and Max and Laura were able to bring it to Mad Anthony’s Children’s Hope House in September.