Patrick Springer, Published November 27 2009
Mahnomen deputy’s recovery strains emotions
Her life changed abruptly on the morning of Feb. 18, when she heard over a police scanner that an officer was down.
Her husband, Chris, lay bleeding from gunshot wounds in the head and abdomen.
Before that morning, Chris was a strapping deputy of the Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota, a volunteer firefighter and avid outdoorsman.
Emily was working full time at a garden center and studying to become a nurse. The couple, high school sweethearts who had been married for three years, had been looking forward to starting a family.
In the nine months since the shooting, her life has swung between highs and lows as her husband’s recovery from his brain injury has alternated between progress and setback.
His complications have included operations to repair shunts, leaky brain fluid, meningitis – and, worst of all, a hemorrhage called a “brain bleed.”
It happened on April 7. Before that date, the plan had been for Chris to be released from a rehabilitation hospital outside Denver on May 6, Emily’s birthday. Chris was walking and talking, and doctors were amazed at his progress.
After the aneurism, a deep setback, Chris was once again bedridden and fighting to regain his momentum.
“Basically everything is pre-hemorrhage and post-hemorrhage,” Emily told The Forum. “That was a turning point in his recovery.”
The latest challenge was a surgery to repair damage from the gunshot wound to his skull.
On Nov. 6, he had an operation called a cranioplasty to repair damage to the temporal region above his right ear and extending toward his forehead.
The operation was successful, but the strain of the surgery taxed his recovery and once again he is fighting to regain momentum.
A little more than a week ago, on Nov. 18, he had recovered enough from surgery to return to Craig Hospital, a rehabilitation center in Englewood, a suburb of Denver.
Doctors hope that Chris will be well enough to return home to Minnesota around mid-January, although the family will meet with his medical team in early December for the latest prognosis and release date.
“We’ll have a better idea of what to expect since this final surgery is behind us,” Emily said. Ultimately, she is optimistic her husband will be well enough some day to do some type of work.
“I’m hopeful,” she said. “I don’t think anything is out of the question,” noting her husband’s ability to survive and recoup from repeated setbacks.
“It’s a true testament to his strength,” she said.
For relaxation, Chris is able to watch television. Emily also reads to him, including the daily newspaper and magazine articles, especially those involving fishing.
Emily, who lives in a house for families of patients at Craig Hospital, devotes most of her time to being her husband’s caregiver and cheerleader.
Every weekday, he has one hour each of speech, physical and occupational therapy. Emily hopes the work will restore Chris to his pre-hemorrhage condition, when he was walking, talking and joking.
During the long convalescence, her life has seemed to be on hold. When Chris is released from the hospital, she plans to complete her nursing studies.
“I have continued my education informally through this experience,” she said. “I absolutely intend on finishing.”
A few days ago, aides experimented with putting Chris in a van, a tryout for the mode of transportation he will use for getting around once back home in the Cambridge-Isanti area, an hour from downtown Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Emily had Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant with the wife and daughter of an Englewood police officer she has gotten to know, part of the extended law enforcement family that has embraced her since the shooting.
“Officers from all over have visited over the months and been amazingly supportive,” she said. “It’s been unbelievable.”
Despite the many ordeals and a long road ahead, Emily counts herself fortunate at a time of year when people pause to reflect and give thanks.
“I have my husband,” she said. “Ninety-two percent of gunshot wounds to the head are fatal, and I still have my husband. That’s absolutely something to be thankful for.”
Although the past nine months have included a lot of anguish and frustration, she added that her religious faith has been a source of support.
“That’s what’s getting me through this,” she said. “I’ve always had faith. It’s been deepened through this experience.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522