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Voyageur's Best Features of 2002

Randeena Olson

A struggle for answers
Local girl expereinces nerve injury that is not well known
by Cynthia Brekke  | October 15, 2002

Randeena Olson, daughter of Kim and Rory Olson of McGregor, was injured during her birth in December of 1996. It was to be the beginning of a frustrating search for help, before a hopeful road to recovery for the Olson family.

The injury is called Brachial Plexus, a nerve injury also referred to as Erb’s Palsey. The nerves which are damaged control muscles in the shoulder, arm or hand, causing any or all of them to be paralyzed.

Although the injury can occur at any time in life, most happen during birth. Many babies with brachial plexus are larger than average, although newborns of all sizes (including premature ones) can have these injuries. About one or two babies in 1,000 suffer brachial plexus injuries at birth.

Randeena Olson’s arm was limp at birth, a sign of paralization. “The first three months after she was born, I lived in the bathtub with her,” said her mother, Kim Olson. The nerve injury was painful for the infant, and the warm water (along with massage) helped soothe the baby.

At first, the doctors told Kim there were no specialists who could take care of the problem. So began her fight to help her child. Kim read up and did her own research. She found a list of specialists and even traveled to Texas, without referral from her doctors, to see what could be done to help Randeena. Once there, the doctors wanted to do surgery right away. “They wanted to do the primary surgery to repair the nerves when we were there,” Kim explained. “But I didn’t feel comfortable with it because she was continually getting a little bit better, and when it stops progressing, or getting better, that’s when they do surgery. They weren’t being conisistent.” In the meantime, because she was doing this without physician referral, she had to fight with their insurance company to cover the costs.

Eventually, however, the struggles led to surgery, which Randeena underwent in January of 2000, at the tender age of three years. It involved muscle and tendon transfer from her back (shoulder blade area), under her arm. The muscle and tendon was screwed into her arm and sutured onto her shoulder. It was performed by Dr. Ann Van Heest, a surgeon at Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minn.

“In a majority of kids, this injury actually heals on its own,” said Dr. Van Heest in a recent interview. “When the injury is severe, they need the nerve surgery (primary surgery), or, if it’s moderate, they need the secondary surgery, which is what Randeena had.” She commented that Randeena seems to be doing quite well. “The arm will always be a bit smaller and weaker, but she’s doing well,” added Van Heest. She and her husband, Greg, have had a cabin on Eagle Lake, by Cromwell since 1989 and are familiar with the area.

“She (Randeena) was only in the hospital for one day,” Kim said. The surgery was partially successful. Now, with exercise and physical therapy, she continues to gain a little more use of the arm. Her development is being watched, as there is nothing more that can be done, surgically.

It’s been a long haul for the Olson family, but Kim, Rory, Randeena and her older sister, Karina, have come through. Kim wanted anyone else who may be faced with this challenge, to know there is help out there. “Gillette has out-clinics all over the state,” she said. “Hopefully, somebody that needs the help will know that there’s places close.”

October 13 through 19, 2002, is the third annual Brachial Plexus Injury Awareness week. For more information on this injury, contact Outreach, United Brachial Plexus Network, Inc., 1610 Kent Street, Kent, Ohio, 44240, or log onto the website at

This article first appeared in the October 15, 2002 issue of the Voyageur press.