Pa. EMT's daughter, 8, survives being run over by 4-ton tractor
EMT Melissa Yorlets Negley's daughter Haley has requested birthday cards as she continues to recover from the February accident
The Patriot-News, Harrisburg, Pa.
PENN TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The last of the logs awaited.
After the morning’s work, a spaghetti lunch had been extended by an afternoon movie break. But it was time for Haley Detman to get back to work on her father’s farm on the outskirts of Shippensburg.
Haley took her place alongside her dad, Jason Haycock, high atop the 8,000-pound tractor on that early February day.
The eight-year-old remembers little of what happened next.
A troublesome log forced her father to stop the tractor, slam on the emergency brake and get off the high perch to check the chains dragging the wood. Haley moved to get off, too. The rest happened in the blink of an eye.
“I got off, and I tripped,” she said, still not ready to speak about the events to follow.
Haley fell backwards, landing in the soft mud alongside yet another log. Then the tractor, poised on a slope, rolled toward her. The front left wheel ground right for her head. It rolled across her left side and swiped her head and face.
By the time her father stood over her, 4-foot, 67-pound Haley was pushed down into the mud. The log alongside her had rolled partially on top of her. Worst of all, she didn’t appear to be breathing.
“His very first words to me were, ‘I thought she was dead’,” Haley’s mom, Melissa Yorlets Negley, said of the frantic phone call placed by her ex-husband from the Southhampton Township accident scene.
“He used the past tense – he thought she was dead. That means she’s still alive,” Negley recounted.
It was all a mother had to latch onto.
Negley is also an EMT, however, and she knew some of the first-responders at the farm. She called one of them just as soon as she hung up with her ex-husband.
“I said, ‘What the hell is going on here? I need to know if my daughter is breathing, if her eyes are open, and if she’s responding to anything’,” Negley said of her call to the EMT crew chief on-scene that day.
“She told me, ’Her eyes are open, she’s awake, and they were Lifeflighting her to Hershey.”
With that, mom became EMT and raced to Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Negley arrived just as Haley’s helicopter was unloading, prompting the pilot to quip, “You got here fast.”
Negley had responded swiftly to many emergencies, but this was the first involving her only daughter and first-born. She said she would’ve done anything to get there.
Negley watched through a cracked door as the trauma room swung into action. Dozens of medical workers swarmed Haley. Beneath the bright exam lights that produced a ghostly effect, the little girl was the calm at the center of a carefully orchestrated storm of trauma treatment.
“My daughter was not screaming. She was listening. She was quiet and doing everything they told her to do,” Negley said.
But there was still no official word on how badly Haley had been hurt. No relief for an EMT mother who’d experienced more than her share of bad things, not the least of which was the robbery-homicide of her musician brother, Kyle Yorlets, less than a year before in Nashville, Tenn.
It was Haley, herself, who would provide reassurance. She did so with an unusual request, just before being whisked away for a MRI as the medical race to assess all her injuries continued.
“Haley says to me and her stepmom, ‘Get me a pair of underwear’.” Negley said. “They cut off all her clothes. She didn’t have any underwear. So she said to me like a woman, ‘Get me a pair of underwear’.”
Negley both smiled and teared-up at this memory of Haley’s bravery – and her own relief.
“That’s when I knew my daughter was going to be OK,” she said. “It’s really cute.”
To be sure, the tractor did a number on Haley.
She suffered a bilateral scapula fracture, a left humerus fracture, two jaw fractures, nerve injury to her right arm, a badly bruised eye and eye socket, a liver laceration, a bruised lung, broken ribs and and a slight brain bleed.
But it could have been so much worse.
Nearly buried in the mud and partially trapped under a log in the immediate aftermath of the accident, Haley was motionless – absolutely lifeless. Then, all at once, the life and the air rushed back into her body.
“When she started breathing, it was like so loud, he will never forget it,” Negley said, recounting her ex-husband’s description. “He said, ‘It was a scream I never heard before, and one I will never forget’.”
The family kept the log that tripped Haley -- but also took much of the weight when the tractor rolled backward. It’s now a signed souvenir of her survival. Still, there are too many what-ifs to count.
What if the ground had been frozen solid providing no forgiveness from the crush of the tractor? What if the tractor had rolled forward with its huge, heavy rear wheel headed for Haley? What if the log wasn’t there to take some of the weight?
“I’m telling you, it’s absolutely amazing,” Negley marveled of her daughter’s survival. “The ground was a little cushiony, and she kind of sunk a little. I think that also saved her. And thank God the tractor rolled backwards, not forward. If it would’ve been the back, left tire…”
Negley doesn’t finish the thought.
These are the hows of Haley’s survival. But the why?
Her mother has thought long and hard about this.
“Everyone has their reasons for why she lived,” Negley said. “Her father, he believes wholeheartedly that God had that log there. For me personally, she’s here on earth for a reason, an inspiration. She has a really big purpose in life, and I don’t know what it is. But it gives me chills. There’s something about her. From the day she was born, I felt like she was my angel. There was always something special about Haley.”
To watch her now, riding her scooter in the driveway and playing with her three brothers on Negley’s Penn Township property, encircled with tall corn stalks, is to see a little girl seemingly fully recovered, despite Haley’s 100 days in a C-collar.
But her mother says her daughter has struggled – and struggles still.
Searing migraines strike Haley out of the blue. The pain is so intense it colors her vision with halos of blue or green. The first few times the hellacious headaches hit, Haley was convinced she was dying, igniting a full-blown panic attack in the fear-stricken eight-year-old.
A new prescription has been controlling the migraines for now. But a mother senses her little girl is forever changed -- and not just physically.
Haley’s therapy sessions for post-traumatic stress were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. So was Haley’s much-anticipated return to school – and the normalcy of her childhood. Haley’s time back in the classroom lasted all of one day last spring. For the fall, Negley said she enrolled Haley in online courses in order to maintain some consistency for her daughter. Negley fears classroom instruction will be, at best, a stop-and-start affair amid the coronavirus.
Most of all, Haley, herself, is different, her mother said.
“She may look happy to you, but she’s not,” Negley said. “I miss my happy Haley. She’s a little bit more agitated with life. She’s a lot more clingy. When she’s here at my house, she has to be with me wherever I’m sleeping.”
This means the two camp out in the living room, with mom on the couch and Haley in the recliner.
“Literally since the accident, any time she’s here, we’ve been sleeping in the living room,” said Negley, who shares custody of Haley with her ex-husband. Both parents remain united in support of their daughter.
“She’s still a kid. She still does what she does,” Negley said. “But compared to what she used to do, I feel like she stops herself. Like jumping on the trampoline; she used to go crazy. Now she wants to do more, but she stops herself.”
Haley is back working on her father’s farm. She got back on the tractor, too. Even her brothers grudgingly admit she’s very brave for doing this.
Indeed, Haley will be called lucky for the rest of her life as she could have died.
But in a little girl’s brush with death, Haley lost something significant and irretrievable: A child’s carefree sense of invulnerability.
Her mother believes Haley will be processing this for a long time to come, perhaps the rest of her life.
“She almost died,” Negley said. “She thinks something really bad, really awful, is going to happen to her again. She’s going to have to mature and age and get through the process mentally of whatever these weird thoughts are. She’s too young to be completely understanding of even death. The more that she matures, the more understanding she will have about life.”
For her part, Haley says little about the accident - to anyone. Perhaps it’s because she lost consciousness and doesn’t remember much. Or maybe she just doesn’t want to talk about it.
Asked if she’s different since that February afternoon on the farm, Haley is definitive: “I’m not.”
With that, the soon-to-be-9-year-old pushes off on her scooter for another spin around the driveway.
For a moment, she’s a kid again, one looking very much forward to her Sept. 13 birthday. So much so, Haley is asking for plenty of cards for the birthday she might not have gotten the chance to celebrate, had things been different back on Feb. 2.
Haley’s birthday wish recalls the request from her Hershey hospital bed for get-well cards. Back then, Negley posted her daughter’s wish on Facebook, and the result was an avalanche of 30,000-plus cards from every state in the union and many countries around the world.
Now, for this extra-special birthday, Haley wants more cards. She’s shy about everything, save for this, asking a reporter to publish her address so that she may receive her cards.
Well, happy birthday, Haley:
Haley Detman, 2560 Walnut Bottom Road, Carlisle PA 17015.
©2020 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)