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Medical tent provides well-rounded care to Sonshine

Susie Johnson, left, and Jeannine Dahl, right, both nurses, check out the condition of their “patient,” nursing intern Hanna Pederson, Thursday inside the Sonshine medical tent. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR - While the first aid tent's main purpose at Sonshine Music Festival is to take care of any sick or injured attendees, the tent's 179 volunteers also use this week as a chance to catch up with colleagues.

Willmar Ambulance Service and Rice Memorial Hospital of Willmar are the main providers at the tent, but medical professionals from Mankato, the Twin Cities and Fargo, N.D., all bring in various equipment needed to ensure Sonshiners have the care they need.

"It's been pretty good, so far," said Jim Kroona, an emergency medical technician from Willmar and the first aid tent's director. "So far (as of Thursday afternoon), we've seen about 60 patients since Monday. It's been mostly sprains or minor injuries to a toe or finger or bandages. There've been some heat-related illnesses."

The medical tent is a fixture at the annual Sonshine Festival that draws thousands to Willmar for four days of Christian music. Performances began Wednesday and continue through Saturday on the grounds of the Willmar Civic Center and nearby Willmar Senior High School in northeast Willmar.

Carrie Yungerberg, a paramedic from Willmar, said Thursday afternoon that she expected the heat-related illnesses to start showing up soon.

"It'll show up (Thursday night) when they get back to their tents and can't sleep, can't get comfortable," Yungerberg said. "Or it'll show up (today) after they've gone through two days of the heat."

Yungerberg, Kroona and Dan Gelle, a paramedic in Hennepin County, all continued stressing the importance of drinking water and sports drinks to stay hydrated, eating regularly and staying away from caffeine.

The three, who are all volunteering their time with Sonshine's first aid tent, also noted the importance of knowing the signs of heat stroke.

"If you have been drinking fluids but haven't had to use the restroom, if you haven't been eating or drinking, if your skin is red and hot but you aren't sweating or if you're feeling dizziness or nausea, you probably have heat stroke," Yungerberg said.

The first aid tent's staff of 179 volunteers includes EMTs, paramedics, nurses, certified nurse assistants, doctors and medical school residents and nursing interns.

"This is a great opportunity to see a variety of things," Kroona said. "Most of it isn't major, but every once in a while you get something that gets your heart thumping."

The tent administers basic first aid but can also treat patients with major illnesses or injuries to stabilize them before sending them to the emergency room. Kroona said there are usually about 10 to 15 patients who end up going to the hospital.

"We can do pretty much anything," Gelle said. "It's set up like a mini ER."

Ultimately, any illnesses or injuries are just part of an attendee's experience.

"Our goal is to take care of you here and get you back out there so you can have a good Sonshine and enjoy your stay," Kroona said.

In between treating patients, the volunteers spend their days catching up.

"You build a bond with all these people, and there's such a wide spectrum of people here, it's a good opportunity to get to know each other," Kroona said. "It's a real team effort."