By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN When Brian and Amy Gatz of Lester Prairie decided to go snowmobiling Dec. 18, they had no idea what lay ahead.
“It was our first ride of the season,” Amy recalled.
They were traveling just east of Glencoe, about a mile south of Highway 212, when Brian saw a drainage ditch in his path.
“I had no time to stop,” he said.
Brian remembers smacking into the drainage ditch, and then lying motionless on the ground, struggling to breathe.
“I thought I was going to die,” he said.
As Amy pulled up alongside, she pleaded silently with him to be OK.
“By the time I got over to him, I didn’t know if he was going to be alive,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘oh, Brian, just get up.’”
She called 911 from her cell phone, and within minutes, emergency personnel arrived at the scene.
Many people who drove by the accident also stopped, offering to help.
At first, Brian was taken to Ridgeview Hospital in Waconia. His injuries were determined to be too severe, however, and he was rushed back into the ambulance to go to Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC).
“There were two guys working on me on the way there,” he said. “I asked one of them if I was going to die, and he said there was a good chance that I wouldn’t survive the trip.”
Brian sustained a torn aorta, which required immediate surgery. Three days later, he also underwent extensive surgery for a damaged spinal cord.
At first, he was completely paralyzed from the waist down.
About a month into his stay at HCMC, however, Brian gradually began to regain some feeling in his lower half.
“One day, I’d wake up, and there’d be a new movement,” he said.
Forty days after the accident, Brian was transferred to the Courage Center in Golden Valley, where he underwent therapy for 3.5 months.
He returned home May 13, and is now able to use a walker around the house. When he’s out, he uses a wheelchair.
“Near my feet, I have about five to 10 percent feeling,” he said. “It takes a long time for nerves to regenerate.”
The injury hasn’t been painful for the most part, Brian said, but he does suffer from spasticity, the involuntary movement of muscles.
“It’s like an extremely bad Charlie horse,” Brian said, explaining that it’s like a shock that lasts a few seconds.
“It makes my leg kick right off the bed,” he said.
Brian and his family hope he will recover from the accident within six months to two years, but the prognosis is uncertain.
“You don’t get any guarantees from the doctors,” Amy said. “It’s physical therapy and time.”
Brian is doing outpatient therapy at St. Mary’s Care Center in Winsted, and also exercises at home and at Americas Fitness Center in Lester Prairie.
Throughout his injury, medical workers were impressed with his quick improvement.
“They said it’s good I was in as good of physical shape as I was,” Brian said.
“Most people don’t survive an injury like that,” Amy added.
Brian, a 1984 graduate of Lester Prairie High School, enjoyed a variety of active, outdoor activities before the accident.
“He’s a go-getter,” Amy said. “For him to be down like this, it’s hard.”
Brian owns a home welding business, and has also been a welder/fabricator in at Lou Feger’s Racing Equipment in Delano for 22 years. He loves his job, but has been unable to work since the accident.
Amy works at Flagship Bank in Winsted.
Grateful for help
The couple is extremely grateful for all the support they’ve received from friends, family, and neighbors the past five months.
“I’ve never been a person who asks for help, and I’ve learned to ask for help,” Brian said.
Brian’s father, Greg, has been at the house daily, and neighbors plowed their driveway all winter.
“Well over 100 people came to see me at the hospital,” Brian said. “When you’re all by yourself, seeing a friendly face can brighten your day really quick. You can’t understand how much it’s appreciated.”
Brian said he’s also pleased with the therapists at the Courage Center.
“They were awesome,” he said.
A benefit for Brian will be Wednesday, June 8 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lester Prairie. The event will include Dad’s Belgian Waffles and a silent auction.
Any type of donation is welcome for the silent auction, and can be mailed to the following address: Benefit for Brian Gatz, c/o Kari Artmann, 3252 190th St., Lester Prairie, MN 55354.
Donations can also be dropped off at Big Don’s Carthedral in Lester Prairie.
“If you would like your donation picked up, please contact me and I will pick up your donation,” Artmann noted.
The benefit organizers would like to have all donations collected by June 1.
For more information, contact Artmann at (320) 395-2444 or (320) 420-6795.