HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. – This July 4 weekend, Kristina Anema plans to celebrate the little things.
“I don’t have the prettiest hand anymore, but I still have my whole hand, all of my fingers,” Anema said.
For nearly 2 years, she’s been working to regain the use of her right hand. It’s been a long road to recovery after she nearly lost it in 2020, when a mortar firework she was holding exploded.
“I just remember looking down and I could see my bone,” she told FOX59.
Anema said it happened during a small Labor Day weekend gathering at her home.
“We had a couple friends over and was also sitting out back relaxing, having fun, had a bonfire going and someone got out fireworks,” she said. “It was mortars that you put down in the tubes, and he (my friend) was holding the tubes with his hand and lighting them.”
When Anema’s friend asked if she wanted to try holding one, she didn’t hesitate. Growing up as a tomboy, following her brothers and loving fireworks, she said she didn’t think anything would happen.
“My youngest son even told me, ‘Mom, I don’t think this is a good idea’,” she said.
What happened next, Anema said, was so fast. The mortar exploded.
“I mean it just happened so quick, it just never left the tube,” she said. “My ears was ringing. It was like slow motion, I was seeing everything in red.”
Anema’s teenage son called 911, and ever since, it’s been a nearly two year journey of recovery. Anema was in the hospital for eight days with at least 15 broken bones, six dislocations, hundreds of stitches, underwent numerous surgeries and so much more.
“It’s been a very long road getting here,” Anema said. “I was released from my surgeon this past March.”
Anema’s story makes up the thousands of firework-related injuries reported every year in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), firework-related injuries have increased about 25% over the last 15 years.
In 2021, CPSC said at least nine people died and an estimated 11,500 were treated in emergency rooms.
“That’s quite in line with what we’ve seen, and in particular recently, over the pandemic,” said Dr. Erik Streib, chief of trauma services at Eskenazi Health.
In comparison, CPSC’s 2021 estimates are down compared to 2020’s numbers of 15,600, when many firework displays were canceled due to the pandemic.
“Perhaps with people staying at home, there have been more fireworks at home,” said Dr. Streib, “Over the years, we’ve seen much more availability, as well as the nature of fireworks changing. You can buy fireworks that are much more powerful nowadays than you did when I was young growing up here in Indiana.”
With easier access to powerful fireworks, Dr. Streib said it leaves more room for risk if not properly handled. Some of the common injuries, he said, include a variety of burns, especially to the hands and fingers.
“Anything that can fly through the air or explode creates a greater risk of injuries,” he said.
Dr. Streib said July 4 weekend and Memorial Day are often the prime time for these injuries. As families prepare to celebrate, he said it’s important to have a safety plan in mind if fireworks at home are part of the festivities.
“Make sure that there is adult supervision. Make sure that you have a bucket of water or a garden hose available in case there is any kind of a fire,” he said. “We recommend that you never try to relight a firework that doesn’t work because that could be dangerous and go off right away.”
Anema hopes others take it from her as they plan their celebrations to do so responsibly and safely.
“I used to always have fun on the fourth, but you can have fun and still be careful,” she said. “Don’t be stupid. Do not mix alcohol and fireworks. Leave them up to the professionals. Go watch them where you can enjoy them.”