By Mike Brue
Grant Campbell wants very much to remember what happened to him at the start of this year.
An 18-year-old from Grand Forks, Grant only knows only what he’s been told, or what he’s read in his family’s CaringBridge web journal about the whole ordeal:
• He was found lying on the snow Jan. 4 at the Mt. LaCrosse ski area in southeast Wisconsin, on a hill where he had been skiing on his own.
• His older sister, Megan, and Grant’s good buddy Shawn Peterson reached him and tried talking to him, Grant opened his right eye but “it wasn’t working properly,” he said they told him.
• Medical tests and observations indicate the bleeding he experienced deep in his brain was caused not by a fall but by a hemorrhagic stroke.
Grant recalls going with Megan, Shawn and Grant’s younger sister, Anna, to Mt. LaCrosse, and he remembers certain events prior to the stroke. “His greatest frustration,” said Grant’s mom, Pat Campbell, “is he doesn’t remember the early weeks and the early days” after the incident. He was admitted to Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center in La Crosse.
“I’m trying to do my best to remember stuff,” Grant said in a phone interview earlier this week, the day before he left with his grandmother, Mary Gerszewski, of Oslo, Minn., for a return trip to Grand Forks and today’s NDAD-sponsored benefit on Grant’s behalf. “I want to know.”
Pat Campbell remembers all too well so many things from Grant’s earliest days in the hospital — Grant’s need for a ventilator, the brace around Grant’s neck and the overall uncertainty over the extent of his head and neck woes, the early seizures and efforts to monitor and stabilize his sometimes-erratic intracranial pressure, the tube feedings, the bout with a gastrointestinal infection.
“His neurosurgeon helped me reframe all of this” last week, Pat said in a phone interview from La Crosse Monday. “What he kept saying to Grant was, ‘You’re one in a million, because you really shouldn’t have even survived.’”
But he has. And with him, his entire family.
Pat Campbell vacillated between her medical knowledge and her own emotions, especially in those early days, she said, “and there were times it just scared the heck out of me.” A clinical coordinator at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse since last September, Pat previously worked at the University of North Dakota Student Health Services as health care analyst and then physician assistant. She’s also been a clinical dietitian and nutrition field coordinator. “I had worked for a number of years at the Rehab in Grand Forks,” she said, “and there I’d seen both good and bad outcomes” from strokes and head injuries.
“A stroke,” said Kate Hoverson, Grand Forks, a Manvel (N.D.) School special education teacher who is Grant’s aunt. “I know it still just sounds so strange when I find myself saying it: ‘Yeah, my 18-year-old nephew had . . . .” She paused just a moment. “You just don’t think someone that young and healthy would be dealing with that.”
Grant, a hockey defenseman and baseball outfielder when he attended Grand Forks Red River High School, experienced various injuries during his youth, including a fractured left hand, several sports concussions, stitches and a golf club hitting his face by his eye, his family said. Still, nothing in his medical history, or his family’s, they say, indicated he might be more susceptible to having a stroke.
“We take great comfort in the fact that he wasn’t behind the wheel of a car or worse yet, alone and asleep” when the stroke occurred, Grant’s mom wrote in a Jan. 14 CaringBridge post. “The outcome for him, and possibly others, would have been much worse.”
A month later, she said “our family has just been incredibly surprised in such a short period of time” how much Grant has recovered.
Grant’s health rehabilitation is not over, even though his progress has been relatively steady, in some areas astoundingly quick, family members say. He has some weakness still on his left side, particularly his left hand, and he lost about 15 pounds on his muscular 6-foot-3 frame during the ordeal, but Grant otherwise has made “incredible gains” physically, Pat Campbell said. Her son’s long-term memory is “flat-out wonderful,” she said, and although his short-term memory at times still needs some prompting and cueing, he continues to make strides.
Grant’s speech has improved so much that he recently was discharged from speech pathology therapy. He’s regularly using Lumosity, a web-based games-and-training app that focuses on cognitive improvement, he said.
Grant also is walking again without pain again after receiving treatment for a recent setback — a pinched nerve in his back.
“I’ve decided it’s no longer called Murphy’s Law. It’s Campbell’s Law,” joked Aunt Katy. “Seriously, we may never know the reason for all of this, but I guess I just chalk it up to this: it’s in God’s hands, and He knows what’s best.”
Each time Grant’s dry sense of humor surfaces is more reassurance to family members that he’s recovering. Kate talked to Grant on the phone Saturday and told him how excited she is he was returning to Grand Forks in time for today’s benefit, set from 5 to 8 p.m. at Holy Family Catholic Church. “He made some kind of comment like, ‘Yeah, I’m kind of getting that from you,’ ” chuckled Kate, whose social media posts have been part of her efforts to spearhead the event.
“It’s just really incredibly uplifting and overwhelming emotionally to know that Grant and our family are supported that much by so many people,” said Pat Campbell, who also plans to return to Grand Forks for tonight’s benefit.
In Grand Forks, Grant said, he looks forward to “mainly seeing friends and not being stuck in the house all day.” He can’t drive these days; because of those early January post-stroke seizures, his driver’s license was suspended for six months.
In addition to the benefit, Grant wants to take in a few North Dakota state boys high school hockey tournament games in Grand Forks. Play begins today. Grant last saw a tournament game as a participant; he and his teammates on the Red River Roughriders won the 2013 state championship.
After the Grand Forks visit ends, Grant will return with a family members to La Crosse and stay with his mom at her apartment while continuing rehabilitation therapy there. His dad, Dan, continues his work at Amazon.com in Grand Forks while the Campbell house remains for sale. Eventually, he’ll move to La Crosse to rejoin wife Pat and daughter Anna, 13, who’s in the eighth grade. Daughter Megan Campbell, 22, is a senior at Hamline University in St. Paul.
Grant eventually intends to return to Grand Forks and resume school at the University of North Dakota, where he completed one semester as a freshman before his stroke occurred. He’s leaning toward studying to become a psychiatrist.
But first, Grant’s recovery from stroke is getting his primary focus. And he says it’s helped him to know that he’s not doing it alone.
“I’m just thankful,” Grant said, “I have so many people supporting me.”
Mike Brue is communications director at NDAD.
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Find out about NDAD’s free-of-charge Community Fundraisers Program and how it may be able to help you give an assist to others with a disability or serious health challenge. Call (800) 532-NDAD (-6323) for more information.