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Landen’s story: A journey of hope and healing

You likely wouldn’t recognize Landen, but you'll probably remember his story — and what happened to him nearly four years ago at the Mall of America.

MINNEAPOLIS — It's a Friday night in January and a birthday party is underway at the Hoffman House.

The birthday boy, Landen, turned 9 last month and is celebrated with a slumber party and silly games. You likely wouldn’t recognize Landen, but you'll probably remember his story — and what happened to him nearly four years ago at the Mall of America.

On April 12, 2019, Landen and his mom, Kari, walked into the mall to meet up with a preschool buddy and his mom on the third floor, outside the not-yet-open Rainforest Café.

"And I was talking to that other mom, and this man came up and he leaned over with the little boys and is whispering to them. And I thought, 'That's strange,'" Kari recalls.

But she assumed the man worked there and asked him if he was going to turn on the alligator exhibit. She said the man looked at her and said no, and then kind of smiled.

Kari says she then asked him if he didn't want them there because the kids were stepping on the restaurant’s rock sculpture. He replied, "Oh, no, no, you're fine. You're fine." 

That's when Kari said she stepped back and the man suddenly grabbed Landen, ran to the balcony and then threw him over the side.

"It was like...you don't — you can't move. You're just stuck," Kari said. 

She says she doesn't remember how she got down the three flights of escalator to reach Landen, who was lying nearly 40 feet below. She just remembers screaming, which caught the attention of two pediatric nurses nearby.

"They got there right after me and gave Landen CPR and they kept saying different things like, 'We got a heartbeat,' and I would say, 'Yes, we got a heartbeat.' I just was totally focused on that," Kari said.

As the nurses worked on Landen, Kari said she started praying.

"I just believed it right that second that God was going to save him. I said, 'No, the devil is not going to take his life. He is going to live.' And I was focused and I kept that and I looked up and everybody was staring. And I said, 'Pray, just pray. You have to pray.'"

And they did, out loud, over her little boy. 

Kari's prayers continued all the way to Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, where a team of surgeons was standing by. 

"They were all ready right when we pulled in," she said. "Each person did their part on his body while I stood on a chair and again prayed over that whole room, watching them work on him."

When the doctors wheeled Landen out for surgery, Kari says she collapsed. 

"And I fell to the floor, and I said, 'I forgive him. I forgave that man because I felt like I needed to remove him from my brain so that God had the space that he needed through me to heal Landen.'"

And there was so much that needed healing. The nearly 40-foot fall shattered his wrists, hands and elbows, broke his femur, shattered the bones in his face and injured his brain. As the doctors worked on Landen, the family gathered at the hospital.

"Everybody's in here and each doctor comes one by one. First, it was the brain doctor because that's the most important right away. And he says he's got them; the first scan looks good, he's stable. I kept saying, 'Bones can heal if his brain's OK. Bones can heal.' And we just kept on going down the line.”

Kari's unwavering confidence in the face of Landen's traumatic injury was a source of inspiration for many, including some of her own relatives.

"I just kept saying, 'We have a God of miracles and we're praying for one. And I know that people all around the world are praying for Landen, too. I can feel it.' You either believe in the power of prayer or you don't," Kari said.

Kari believed it and held tight to it through the many surgeries, setbacks and successes that followed. Kari says she refused to be distracted by anything else, including letters from well-wishers or news about the man who was responsible.

As for Landen, he doesn't remember anything about the day of the incident, or really any of the bad parts about his recovery. When you ask him about his time in the hospital, he'll happily tell you about the wheelchair races he had with his grandmother and all the games he played with his dad.

After four months, Landen was released. All his bones had healed, but the injury to his frontal lobe had changed him from a shy, quiet child to one who is now louder and more impulsive. It took some time for Kari to adjust to this new version of her son, but she has come to embrace it.

"I don't know what the future holds for Landen, but I'm not worried," she said. We'll just take it one day at a time. I don't think ahead, I just stay in my lane and focus on what Landen wants to do today. We'll think about the future later."

As for Landen, he simply feels "normal." After everything he's been through, that is a gift in and of itself.

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