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Winner explosion victims out of hospital, improving

WINNER — The five victims of a July 19 house explosion in Winner are all out of the hospital and improving daily, said April Al-Salihi, a relative and an officer with the Winner Police Department.

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Al-Salihi is the daughter of Audrey Ferguson, 66, who was injured when her home at 422 W. First St. was destroyed in a propane-related explosion. Others in the home were Al-Salihi’s sister, Ardith Perry, 37; Perry’s fiancée, David Frank, 49; Perry’s son, William Schroeder, 14; and Perry and Frank’s 7-month-old daughter Angel Frank.

Ferguson, who was downstairs when the blast occurred, suffered a head injury from falling debris.

The others, who were in an upstairs apartment, suffered serious burns.

Perry, the most seriously injured, had burns over 75 percent of her body. She was flown from Winner Regional Hospital to the burn center at Hennepin County Medical Center, in Minneapolis, where she was placed in a medically induced coma that allowed surgeons to do skin grafts without causing pain.

“They were amazing,” Al-Salihi said.

Perry was eventually moved to Sanford USD Medical Center, Sioux Falls, where she continued her recovery. She was released Oct. 5.

Perry will have to wear pressure gloves and sleeves on her hands and arms for several months to help support her skin grafts.

“She’s up and walking and no longer has double-vision,” Al-Salihi said, explaining a side-effect of being in a medically induced coma for about a month.

Perry is now able to walk using a cane, with little assistance.

“It’s just good to have all the family together,” said Al-Salihi, who is helping care for her sister’s children as the victims continue their recovery.

Investigators narrowed the cause of the explosion to a gas valve on a propane line that formerly fed an upstairs heater, Al-Salihi said.

“The heater was removed but the line was never capped; the gas valve was just turned off,” Al-Salihi said. The valve, which she described as a quarter-turn shutoff type, was somehow jostled, and it accidentally opened, allowing gas to enter the house.

Perry noted the gas smell and told Frank about it.

Investigators believe Frank accidentally triggered the explosion when he flipped a light switch while he was seeking the source of the leak, Al-Salihi said.

David Frank, who is engaged to Perry, received burns to his torso, back, arms and face. He was treated at the Hennepin burn unit and released Aug. 4. He has been cleared by doctors for driving and will return to his job Nov. 1 at Grossenburg Implement in Winner, where he works as a mechanic.

Schroeder, 14, has returned to school and taken a job at the Winner Food Center. Angel Frank, who will celebrate her first birthday Oct. 25, also continues recovering.

Al-Salihi said her sister and mother hope to be walking without any assistance or devices by Nov. 22 when the family will go to San Diego to see Al-Salihi’s oldest son, Lance Boerner, 18, graduate from Marine boot camp.

Al-Salihi calls their survival a miracle, but one that has created significant financial problems for the family.

“It was an expensive learning experience,” she said.

Ardith is the only one who does not have health insurance. She is a part-time baker at Winner Bakery and the business does not offer health insurance, Al-Salihi said.

Al-Salihi doesn’t yet know how expensive the ordeal will be, because she hasn’t opened all the medical bills.

“To be honest I’m terrified to open them,” she said.

She has seen the first round of bills from July 19 to Aug. 1, which tallied $16,000. She knows the remaining bills will be much higher.

The community has been supportive. Al-Salihi and the Winner PD adjusted her schedule to give her time to be with her sister and tend to her care.

A September benefit competed with numerous other events at the time and netted about $4,000.

Donations to the Ferguson Fire Fund may still be given to any Wells Fargo Bank, she said.

“There’s so much compassion here in Winner,” she said. “It’s a community that really pulls together.”