'It was one miracle after another’Norwegian exchange student in Devils Lake survives high-risk surgery after nearly fatal brain aneurysm
The Schnaidt family of Sheyenne, N.D., were recently introduced to the family of their foreign exchange student when the young man suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm at school
By: Sue Kraft, Devils Lake Journal
DEVILS LAKE — Sheyenne, N.D., resident David Schnaidt said that even though his heritage is German, he is proudly telling people that he has family in Norway.
The Schnaidts were recently introduced to the family of their foreign exchange student when the young man suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm at school. They have since bonded over the situation, even spending the Thanksgiving holiday together in his hospital room.
“It’s not the way we intended to meet the family, but the bond we formed will be life-lasting,” Schnaidt said.
Schnaidt said he was working at Marketplace Motors on Nov. 3 about noon when calls and texts began coming in. He was told their exchange student, Magnus Fenes, 17, was lifting weights at Devils Lake High School when he collapsed with an extreme headache.
Once he arrived at the emergency room, Schnaidt said he learned how severe the situation was.
“I heard them say ‘Code Blue in ER,’” he recalled. “They grabbed the chaplain and took me into the ER and told me what was going on.”
The seemingly healthy teen was going into cardiac arrest.
“He’s a big, strong Norwegian kid, 6’4,” 220 pounds, as athletic as you could get, and he was going into cardiac arrest,” Schnaidt said. “It was very difficult, very emotional.”
Fenes was airlifted to Fargo, where doctors determined the problem was caused by a
tangle of abnormal blood vessels in his cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. They wanted to do surgery right away, even though his chances of survival were 1 in 100,000.
The boy’s parents were contacted in Norway but opted to stay there until the surgery was complete — they did not want to be in the air when the news came of their son’s condition.
Gayle Wilhelmi is a representative from EF (Education First), the program that brought Fenes to North Dakota. Schnaidt called her from the hospital, and she contacted the regional coordinator in Fargo.
“They contacted the main office in Boston. They are the ones that communicate with the parents,” she said.
Schnaidt said he was thankful the EF program helped with the communication.
“It was a challenge trying to explain to Magnus’ parents what was going on,” he said. “English is their second language, and some things were lost in translation.”
He said the representatives from EF contacted the consulate, who had a Norwegian doctor explain the situation to the parents.
“We promised the parents we would be at his side,” Schnaidt said. “We told them we would not leave him alone until they got there.”
The boy’s sister, Christianne, who had been studying in Holland, caught a quick flight and was in Fargo the next day. His parents, Arnt and Anne, arrived the day after that.
“The people at EF cut through the bureaucracy and got those folks over here as fast as air travel would allow,” he said.
The family remained at his side until his recovery began, with the father and sister eventually returning to Norway. The boy’s mother is scheduled to fly home soon, but plans to return in the spring for his graduation.
The Schnaidt family is also planning a trip to Norway in the near future to visit their new extended family.
Schnaidt said that the Fenes family was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from students, friends and the community as a whole.
“I think Magnus got a get-well card from every student at the high school,” Schnaidt said. “And Mr. Hanson (DLHS Principal Ryan Hanson) visited on Thanksgiving Day.”
He said calls, cards, emails and offers have also poured in from strangers who have heard his story.
“His mother is so overwhelmed by the support and generosity,” he recalled. “She commented, ‘You’d never see this in Norway,’ and her daughter grabbed her arm and said, ‘But this is America, this is what they do.’”
Schnaidt said the fact that Fenes is on the road to recovery is nothing short of a miracle — and Wilhelmi agreed.
Both said the quick response from school officials, local emergency technicians, the emergency room doctors, the quick helicopter flight to Fargo and the successful emergency surgery in Fargo all contributed to his survival.
“If any one of those pieces of the puzzle were lacking, he wouldn’t have made it,” Wilhelmi said.
In fact, Schnaidt noted, his family was also glad he was here when it happened.
“His parents know if this had happened in their tiny village, medical help was two or three hours away,” he said.
He said it was also fortunate that it happened at school, near the hospital.
“It was a miracle in progress, we just didn’t realize it was happening,” he said.
Schnaidt said he has researched the subject on the Internet and can now fully appreciate just how lucky the young man was.
“I have done some reading on similar situations and very few survive,” he said.
He said the boy’s quick recovery time is also unheard of.
“It was definitely divine intervention. The Good Lord performed a miracle right before our eyes,” he said. “There were lots and lots of people praying for this kid, and the Lord answered our prayers — and we are very grateful for that.”
Schanidt and his wife, Ranae, have made several trips to visit the boy with their daughter, Emily, a senior at Devils Lake High School. The couple’s other daughter, Stephanie, lives in Fargo and also visits the hospital quite often.
Schanidt said they consider Magnus a part of the family and cannot wait for his return. His therapy has begun, and the doctor’s main concern now is making sure he can swallow effectively.
“Things are improving every day,” he said. “The doctors are amazed. They expect him to make a full recovery, which is unheard of.”
He added, “But nothing surprises me with this kid anymore.”
Schnaidt said they are planning a celebration when he is allowed to come home, which may be in the near future.
“We’re really hoping and praying it’s before Christmas,” he said, “but it’s hard to speculate. It’s up to the doctors.”
Doctors are still discouraging too many visitors to the young patient’s room, but a Caring Bridge website has been set up to keep friends and family up to date on his condition, the address is: www.caringbridge.org/visit/MagnusFenes.
“His chances were 1 in 100,000,” Wilhelmi said. “The right people were just in the right place at the right time. It was one miracle after another.”