Strength to Save a Viking



Magnus Fenes nearly crumpled from the sudden, intense pain between his temples. The Norwegian exchange student was lifting weights in PE class at Devils Lake (N.D.) High School.

Dizzy and nauseous, he staggered to the locker room. Two friends saw him and followed.

“I was lying on the floor feeling terrible,” recalls Magnus. “One friend ran to the principal’s office while the other stayed with me and put a towel around my head. I’ll never forget that. So many people helped me that day -- many I didn’t even know. The last thing I remember was an oxygen mask going over my face in the ambulance.”

On any other day, this 17-year-old Nordic tae kwon do champion would have bench pressed over 200 pounds. But on Nov. 3, 2011, he desperately needed the strength of others.

A dire situation

Magnus’ host father Dave Schnaidt got the call at work. He rushed to Mercy Hospital in Devils Lake. While signing admission papers, he heard “Code Blue in the ER” on the intercom.

“I raced to the ER and said I have to see Magnus,” says Dave. “I couldn’t believe what they were telling me -- unresponsive? not breathing? Here’s this Viking -- this strapping young man who’s 6’ 5” and can manhandle a football team -- and they’re hoping he pulls through? To see him almost lifeless was hard.”

Fast transport by the ambulance team led to quick action in the ER. The doctor suspected a ruptured blood vessel, prompting an immediate brain CT scan and a call to Sanford LifeFlight in Fargo.

“The doctor explained how serious this was. The rupture was in the worst possible place and the prognosis was usually death,” says Dave, a catch in his voice. “Magnus was part of our family.”

Rapid response continues

When the Sanford LifeFlight team arrived in Devils Lake, they knew the challenge.

“We moved fast,” says Jeff Iverson, RN. “In this type of emergency, there’s just a small window of time to get the patient to a neurosurgeon."

Beginning in the Devils Lake ER and continuing to Fargo, Jeff and paramedic Mike Schultz worked to stabilize Magnus and reduce brain swelling. Twenty minutes before landing, they called the waiting team at Sanford with an update.

And when they landed? “We were just glad he was still alive,” says Mike quietly.

Adds Jeff: “Now it was up to Hutch…”

Emergency surgery

Sanford neurosurgeon Dr. John Hutchison debated whether it was too late for surgery. Magnus’ pupils were fixed and there was no motor response.

“The odds were against him,” says Dr. Hutchison. “But his age was in his favor. Young brains have great capacity for recovery. Another plus: the prompt, well-coordinated care beginning at the high school and continuing at every stage. All came together perfectly."

In a six-hour surgery, Dr. Hutchison and Teresa Reinholz, neurosurgery physician assistant, identified and treated the culprit: an arteriovenous malformation. An AVM is a "tangle" of thin-walled blood vessels that can rupture and bleed into the brain.

In Magnus' case, the ruptured AVM caused bleeding into the cerebellum -- the region of the brain that controls movement and coordination. He was likely born with the AVM, and the strain of weightlifting likely caused the rupture.

While the Sanford team operated, Magnus’ birth family crossed an ocean. Sister Christianne traveled from Amsterdam. Parents Ann Paulsen and Arnt Fenes traveled from their home on a remote island off the coast of Norway.

“We thought we’d be signing organ-donation papers,” recalls Ann.

Healing in the PICU

Magnus began healing in Sanford Children’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Initially he needed extensive medication and a ventilator for breathing.

He remembers the moment he started to regain consciousness.

“My sister was sitting at my side and I heard her talk to me in Norwegian,” he says. “I think that’s when I knew I was going to be alright.”

By the time Arnt and Ann arrived, Magnus had already reached two milestones: breathing on his own and communicating. When he heard his mom’s voice he gave a big thumbs-up.

Says Ann: “We were so grateful he was here in North Dakota. If this emergency had happened at home, he would not have made it. He could not have reached the care he needed in time.”

Says Arnt: “Two days before I had to go back to Norway, Magnus took a few steps on his own. It helped me to see that.”

Gaining ground in Rehab

On Nov. 25, Magnus graduated to Sanford Rehab. He had three goals: gaining strength, increasing mobility and learning to swallow.

Every day he put 110 percent into hours of intensive occupational, physical and speech therapy, progressing much faster than expected. He recalls his biggest therapy challenge: lifting weights.

“They were just little, but it was really tough for me because that’s what I was doing when I had my aneurysm,” he says. “I also hated the thickened liquids I had to drink, but that was part of learning to swallow.”

Says Brad Arett, RN, Sanford Rehab: “Magnus was a good sport about anything we asked him to do. It still amazes me. Here’s this 17-year-old kid in a hospital thousands of miles from home going through a really challenging experience and English wasn’t even his first language. Plus he was always so friendly and outgoing.”

Five weeks after the ruptured AVM, Magnus returned to Devils Lake, where outpatient therapy continued. On Dec. 9, he returned to school.

“It was great to see my friends again,” he says. “So many people in Devils Lake were praying for me and supporting me.”

Reuniting on May 31

Magnus walks up and greets each of the people who helped him -- the LifeFlight team, Dr. Hutchison, nurses, therapists and more.

“This is so awkward,” he says to those gathered at a reunion at Sanford in Fargo. But his broad smile says he wouldn’t have missed this for anything. He presents Dr. Hutchison with a 12" chrome flagpole and 4" Norwegian flag. Engraved words express appreciation to the entire team.

“The job you did was good -- all of you,” he says. “I’m thankful.”

Today Magnus is home in Norway. He’ll spend the summer taking tickets on a ferry, then complete his last year of high school. In the years ahead he hopes to pursue a career in engineering.

“I was a determined person before this AVM, and now I’m even more determined,” he says. “But I still wonder why I was so lucky.”

Posted Date: August 2012

Strength to Save a Viking

Many call it a miracle: the survival of a 17-year-old Norwegian exchange student who suffered a near-fatal brain hemorrhage. Get a behind-the-scenes look at what -- and who -- helped save the life of Magnus Fenes.