By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL-COKATO, MN Doctors are “cautiously optimistic” that Dassel-Cokato linebacker Luke Nelson will make a full recovery from injuries suffered in a DC home football game Sept. 6.
“He’s already made significant, giant strides,” said Dr. Andrew Kiragu, pediatric critical care physician at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), and the medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at HCMC, where Nelson is a patient.
Kiragu noted Nelson is back to himself personality-wise, but has some physical side effects that will take longer to heal.
“Luke’s Luke cracking jokes and talking about everyday stuff and the game,” said Nate Nelson at a press conference last Monday. Nate is Nelson’s cousin and also a linebacker and junior at DC.
For instance, when told DC lost to Orono, Nelson wanted to know why DC didn’t win saying he worked hard in that game.
Other teammates were also at the press conference and noted their surprise when the seriousness of Nelson’s injury was discovered.
“It was scary. Right away, we didn’t know it was as serious as it was,” said senior captain Zach Martin.
Senior captain Joel Carlson said some players thought it might be a shoulder or something, but knew it was more serious when the ambulance came onto the field.
It is likely the quick thinking and fast actions of DC head football coach Ryan Weinandt, trainer Kristen Neitfeld, and the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) of the Cokato Ambulance Service that Nelson is doing so well.
“You wouldn’t normally see getting such a severe bleed,” Kiragu said, noting the severity of Nelson’s injuries are somewhat unexpected for football, even though it is a high-contact sport.
However, as soon as Nelson staggered on the football field that night, Weinandt knew something was seriously wrong with the 16-year-old junior.
Running onto the field to stop the play, Weinandt was able to ask Nelson several key questions before Nelson no longer had the ability to respond, said DC Activities Director Perry Thinesen.
Those questions helped determine the severity of the injury, and the fast actions that would need to be taken to save Nelson’s life, Thinesen added.
Having emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and an ambulance at the game saved precious minutes in getting Nelson the help he needed after he collapsed.
Recognizing on the way to Meeker Memorial Hospital that Nelson would need to be airlifted the EMTs called the hospital to make sure a helicopter was on its way, according to Cokato EMT Jarod Sebring.
Once the ambulance reached Meeker Memorial Hospital, a CT scan was administered while waiting for the helicopter so the results could be sent electronically to HCMC and a plan of action could be in place before Nelson arrived, Kiragu said.
“From beginning to end, the situation was handled as well as it could be,” Thinesen said, noting coach Weinandt’s quick thinking. “He’s in-tune with the health of the kids it’s paramount to him.”
Following the game, Weinandt went to HCMC and stayed with the family until 4 a.m. when they were given an update following Nelson’s surgery.
“Coach Weinandt’s care for Luke and Luke’s family behind the scenes has gone beyond the call of duty,” Thinesen said. “To me, he is an example of the kind of people we want working with young people. He cares more about the kids than he does about the win or loss.”
Although Nelson suffered a concussion as a freshman in football sitting out part of that season it is unlikely it caused or added to the injuries suffered in the recent football game, Kiragu explained.
At the press conference, Weinandt called Nelson a “great, salt-of-the-earth kid,” who is never mad and is always lifting people up.
When asked if this would change the way the team plays, Weinandt noted the team had not practiced on the field since the incident, and coaches were not yet aware of the confidence level of the players.
However, if players did not feel comfortable, coaches were not going to force them to play. Throughout the week, the team has been addressing any issues that arise.
“I think it’s changed me forever,” Weinandt said about Nelson’s injury.
Nelson’s teammates noted it was not going to change the way they play, or their confidence in playing, saying that Nelson would want to get back out there to play if he could.
“If you look at it and play scared, nothing good is going to come out of it. We are going to play hard for him,” Martin said.
N. Nelson said that it has changed how he views the game. “If you don’t feel good, let someone know,” he said.
Weinandt commented Thursday that the team has had a good week of practice, and the team has really pulled together and worked hard to prepare for its next game in Fairmont (last Friday).
“I think it’s been a good release for our players to get out to practice and work hard,” Weinandt said. “Our guys have had a great attitude, and have really been supporting each other.”
He noted players have made a lot of trips to HCMC to see their teammate, which has been great for them and for Nelson.
As children get older and are allowed more and more contact in the sports in which they are involved, it is important that families, coaches, and others involved are aware of the symptoms that come with concussions and brain injuries, Kiragu noted.
“When kids play in competitive sports, and may be getting hit in the head, it puts them at higher risk,” Kiragu said.
It is very important athletes do not return to the game while they are still showing symptoms of a concussion.
“It is important for everybody to play safe, but to also have fun,” Kiragu said.
“It’s been great taking care of this young man. He has a great family, with wonderful support,” Kiragu added, noting that some families make it very easy to take care of their children, and the Nelsons are one of them.
Support for the family and the DC football team has been coming from schools, coaches, athletic directors, and others throughout the state since Sept. 6.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to Luke’s family. It’s been neat to see the community support,” Thinesen said. “It will be great to see Luke back walking the halls [at DC].”