Teamwork Saves Teen’s Life

Teamwork saves teen’s life

Spencer Brandsrud spent the afternoon of a mid-August day in 2013 riding his family’s new Jet Ski on Lake Poinsett, nearly 100 miles north of their home in Brandon, S.D. It was one of the 15-year-old’s favorite pastimes to be in the water and spending time with his older sister and parents at their family cabin.

That night they went to a restaurant for dinner, but shortly after their food was served, Spencer felt a pang of nausea. His mother, Teresa, leapt from her seat and sped him toward the entrance where he collapsed.

“At that point I knew he was having a seizure because his limbs went straight out," she said.

It was the climax of Spencer’s battle with daily headaches, nausea and vomiting, which he’d endured for nearly seven months. A pediatric neurologist blamed hormones, but antidepressants and other medications made little difference.

“They would come and go so fast,” Teresa said of Spencer’s symptoms. “He’d get a bad headache and in less than 30 seconds it would go from the pain tolerance of zero to 10. Then he might go the rest of the day without a headache or another one might happen in two hours, but they never lasted for hours like you hear from people with migraines.”

Spencer was transported from the restaurant to the closest hospital where a CAT scan revealed the culprit – a large tumor in the teenager’s brain. The Brandsruds requested an AirMed rush him to Sanford Children’s Hospital, the one place they trusted could save his life.

At the Castle®, Teresa said the medical team sprang into action.

“As they were rolling him into the ICU, Spencer had a grand-mal seizure right there,” she said. “At that point, they already had him sedated, they had him intubated and they were doing everything for him. Everyone stayed so calm the whole time they were administering to him; they were right on top of it.”

Pediatric neurologists found a tumor the size of a softball at the top of his brain stem. Neurosurgeon Troy Gust, MD, performed surgery and removed most of the mass, which proved to be benign.

Just one week later, doctors gave Spencer the go-ahead to return home.

“It’s amazing the way your brain can reconnect,” Teresa said. “It doesn’t go like that for everyone, but his story was just one miracle after another.”

Yet Spencer's journey is far from over. He continues to take seizure medication twice a day and will have MRI scans every four months to monitor the remaining tumor. If it remains stable, MRI scans will be scheduled every four to six months in the second and third years and annually after that.

"There is still a huge level of worry for our family," she said. "We still have lots of medical bills, lots of appointments and lots of worries as to what is going to happen in the future. There are no promises that this tumor is going to remain stable."

Although the Brandsruds recognize a few individuals who made a difference in Spencer's care so far – Dr. Mir Hyder Ali, Sanford critical care pediatrician, who kept Spencer alive for nearly two days when he first arrived at Sanford Children's, Dr. Gust who removed the tumor, an ICU nurse who never left Spencer’s side and a physical therapist who was the first to make Spencer smile – they credit everyone at Sanford Health for saving their son’s life. The Sanford AirMed, Miller Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Pediatric Neurology, Pediatric Surgery, Child Life, social work, counseling, physical therapy, occupational therapy and orthopedics all played a role in Spencer’s recovery.

“We are very lucky that we live in this area, so close to the Castle®,” Teresa said.

Behind every story like Spencer’s, there is a team of compassionate, dedicated men and women working together to make every second count. Generous donors like you help ensure we don’t miss a beat when it comes to coordinating the highest level of care around each patient’s needs.

To learn more about Sanford Health and how donations through the Sanford Health Foundation can make a difference, visit or call (605) 312-6700.

Posted Date: August 2014

Teamwork Saves Teen’s Life

Behind every story like Spencer Brandsrud, there is a compassionate team working together to make every second count. Generous donors help ensure the medical team doesn’t miss a beat.