Making a Difference: Strangers step up to save Cottage Grove teen’s life

Family especially grateful on this Thanksgiving for those who saved him
Jonah Heyerholm is working hard to learn how to walk again on a leg he nearly lost in a freak boating accident.
Published: Nov. 25, 2021 at 7:00 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 25, 2021 at 10:57 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Jonah Heyerholm is working hard to learn how to walk again on a leg he nearly lost in a freak boating accident. It’s a miracle he’s still alive.

The 16-year-old was wakeboarding on Rock Lake in Lake Mills in August when the boat’s propeller slashed the main artery in his leg, causing a massive loss of blood. Recalling the accident Jonah said, “I remember being pulled into the boat. People were trying to figure stuff out. They tied the ski rope around my leg to stop the blood flow. They called the police and a police boat showed up on the water and they gave us an actual tourniquet and tied that on, and then that’s when I passed out just for a short amount of time.”

Jonah Heyerholm wakeboards
Jonah Heyerholm wakeboards(Family photo)

He came to as the boat was speeding to shore, where Lake Mills EMS crews quickly transported him to UW Health University Hospital. He said, “I remember being rushed into a room in the hospital. The whole room was crowded with people, just everyone trying to figure out what was wrong and what to do.”

Jonah at UW Hospital following the accident.
Jonah at UW Hospital following the accident.(Family photo)

His mother Rita rushed to the hospital. She recalled, “I saw the severity of how bad the leg was. Your immediate reaction was, get us through this.”

Jonah underwent 14 surgeries and needed 38 units of donated blood to survive. Rita said, “There were people there that literally said they stood there, and were feeding blood into Jonah to keep him alive as fast as he was losing it. And, you know, we’re not for the unbelievably selfless gift of blood, this would have had a very, very different outcome.”

Jonah after surgery at UW Hospital.
Jonah after surgery at UW Hospital.(Family photo)

Even early on as Jonah struggled to recover at the hospital he kept a smile on his face....and kept the faith in his heart. Pictures of Jonah during his long recovery at the hospital show him cheerful, despite what had happened to him. Rita said, “He was smiling. And everyone was so uplifted. It was like, okay, Jonah is still in there. You know, the other stuff we can deal with. His heart, his courage, his mind, his humor, personality, that is all there. And that was really what we are blessed by is he’s still there.”

Jonah with some of those who treated him at UW Hospital.
Jonah with some of those who treated him at UW Hospital.(Family photo)

Jonah’s attitude about the accident and the long recovery matches his blood type--B Positive. He said he’s, ”just trying to find the positive…and be happy. Because I know being negative is not going to help”.

The answer to what he’s most thankful for this year is simple: “That I’m still living on this planet….because I know that it could have gone a lot worse.”

Jonah with get well cards at hospital
Jonah with get well cards at hospital(Family photo)

The Heyerholms are grateful to Jonah’s many Lakeside Lutheran classmates and family friends for sending everything from meals to prayers. Jonah said, “It just mainly gave me motivation to keep pushing through so that my friends could see me again.”

They’re immensely grateful for those first responders and UW Health medical staff who saved him...and they’re especially thankful to those who volunteer to donate blood. Jonah said, “With accidents as severe as mine, it saved my life.”

Rita added, “You can’t put a word on it. It’s profound. These are people who just give selflessly time and again....who come together for the common purpose to donate blood. To say thank you pales in comparison to the genuine feeling we have for what they gave him. In his case, it saved his life. And that’s profound. That is not anything you can put a value on. That’s priceless.”

Inspired by those who gave of themselves to save him, Jonah’s now an inspiration himself. Fighting back tears, Rita said, “He is the bravest kid I know. His perseverance to not go down the road of despair, but instead to focus on God brought me to this place for a reason, so let’s see where he takes me. He went from 16, in many ways looking at how easy life was, to realizing how life can be really difficult. And he still puts a smile on his face every day. That’s a really big reason to give thanks.”

The American Red Cross is holding a blood drive in honor of Jonah Heyerholm at City Hall in Lake Mills on December 7th. You can call 1-800-RED-CROSS, visit or download the red cross app to sign up for an appointment there or at any of the many other blood drives held all across our area.

Jonah Heyerholm Blood Drive poster
Jonah Heyerholm Blood Drive poster(American Red Cross)

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