Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, July 14, 1997

Tumor ends football career for high school star


On June 1, Chris Bahr received his diploma from Lester Prairie High School. His plan for the weekend was to attend his classmates' graduation parties.

But a persistent headache kept him home the following Saturday, and leveled the star football player on Sunday. "I could barely stand up," Chris said.

That day, June 8, Chris's mom, Deb, knew something wasn't right. "He had taken eight to 10 aspirin and his headache still didn't go away," she said.

Chris complained his ear felt as though it was plugged, and Deb, thinking Chris had an ear infection took him to the emergency room in Waconia.

Chris was in a hurry to get home, wanting to go to the graduation parties. Instead, he wasn't able to come home for 10 days, and was unable to play in the state all-star football game.

At Waconia, the doctor found blood behind Chris's eye, a sign of pressure on the brain. A CAT scan was ordered and revealed a mass the size of a baseball in the back of his head.

The tumor was blocking the ventricles in which spinal fluid flows away from the brain, locking the spinal fluid in around Chris's brain, causing pressure and resulting in his severe headache.

To relieve the pressure, doctors at Waconia drilled two holes in the right front side of Chris's head and inserted a drainage tube. They used local anesthesia, numbing only where they would use the hand drill.

An IV was started, and Chris was transported by Ambulance to Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC).

HCMC is a place of bad memories for the Bahrs. Deb said her daughter, Angie, hates the place and with good reason.

Just a year ago, Chris's father, David, died at HCMC after a car crash on Highway 7. Deb's other daughter, Jennifer, was hospitalized there following the crash.

On June 9, it took six hours and four surgeons to remove the tumor in Chris's head.

"They started at the bottom of my neck," Chris said, "and cut my skin open. Then they drilled four holes and used something like a jigsaw, basically connecting the dots."

From the surgical standpoint, it was good news. The tumor was in its own membrane, containing its mass and making it easier to remove.

It is possible for tumors to have tentacles that reach into the brain, making it difficult to remove. As much as a CAT scan can show something was amiss, what the surgeons would find was still a guess.

"(The doctors) didn't know what they were getting into until they opened him up," Deb said.

On Friday the 13th the Bahrs received their second round of good news: the tumor was benign.

"I can't remember what type of tumor it was, but the doctors said it is usually malignant," Deb said.

The good news has been tempered by the bad. Chris has been advised not to play football again.

"If it had been in the front of my brain they could have put the skull back," Chris said. "But in the back the bones shattered when they cut them."

Now instead of bone, the back of Chris's brain is protected by a plastic plug.

Chris spent eight days in the intensive care unit, propped up precisely so the spinal fluid would drain out of the tube in his head. "They would come in with a level, like what a carpenter uses and hold in over my nose," Chris said. The nurses would also check on him every two to four hours

"He did have a lot of spinal fluid in his brain because the ventricles didn't open right away. They thought they might have to put a shunt in," Deb said. Fortunately, it wasn't needed.

Chris spent another two days in a regular hospital room. He later had to return for a day and a half stay after his incision opened after the staples were removed. Chris's head was stitched up again and they were just removed on July 1.

Why a tumor began to grow in Chris's head is an open question, but it had been there for many years before being known.

"The doctor said it was a slow growing type," Deb said. "They asked me if he had hit his head hard when he was little, but I couldn't think of anything," she said.

A difficult day was June 28, the day of the all-star game. In his senior year playing football for Lester Prairie, Chris racked up 19 solo tackles and 57 assists. He was chosen most valuable player in the Tri-Valley Conference and selected for the all-star team.

Instead of being on the field where he should have been, Chris watched from the sidelines.

The Bahrs went to all-star banquet the previous night and received his plaque, but not playing in the game: "It was hard," Chris said.

He had planned to play football at Ridgewater Community College in Willmar.

"He thought they would just redshirt him for a year," Deb said.

Instead, three days after he was told he shouldn't play football, Chris wrote the college informing it he would not be on the team. He still will attend this fall an major in agriculture.

Chris said he feels fine, other than a stiff neck and he tires easily.

For a time, he will have to go to a doctor every three months, then every six month to make sure the tumor has not regrown. Later he will have to be checked once a year for four or five years.

Now there is the hard realities of the cost of Chris's surgery. Deb said she does not know how much insurance will pay.

The church and community has come together to support the Bahrs. Sunday, their church, St. Paul's Lutheran, had a dinner for Chris. Donation boxes will be at First Community Bank in Lester Prairie and State Bank of Young America until Friday, July 18. Another donation box will be at the church until July 20, or donations may be mailed to St. Paul Lutheran Church, PO Box 38, Lester Prairie, MN 55354.

In addition tickets for a quilt raffle will be sold until Labor Day.

Lavonne Burch of rural Lester Prairie is one of the organizers of the fund raiser. Chris had worked on their farm for three years.

"He is one of most kindest and considerate person you could meet," Burch said.

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