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Boy struggles to recover after 30-foot Alerus Center fall

Cody Wahl is 20 pounds lighter. Severe headaches disrupt his nights and days. A surgical scar crosses half his forehead. His right hand tires from taking notes in class.

Cody Wahl is 20 pounds lighter. Severe headaches disrupt his nights and days. A surgical scar crosses half his forehead. His right hand tires from taking notes in class.

And, perhaps worst of all, he's unable to patrol center field for the Kidder County baseball team this spring.

All of those changes in the high school sophomore's life result from a 30-foot fall he took to the concrete floor of the Alerus Center on March 6 during the Class B state girls basketball tournament.

It's been a trying two months physically and emotionally for Cody, a good student, a good athlete and an all-around good kid by all reports. Cody's life has become decidedly more complicated than what most 16-year-olds face. But his father concentrates on the positive bottom line.

"A lot of people who fall from that height don't survive," Shannon Wahl said. "For Cody to not only survive it, but to look at having a full recovery is a miracle.


"It's a story with a happy ending."

A shocking sight

Witnesses were stunned that Friday evening when Cody put a hand on the bleachers' top railing and purposely jumped over it. He was in pursuit of a T-shirt shot by a member of the National Guard, one of the tournament sponsors, into a curtain behind the bleachers.

Cody, who declined an interview request, has said he doesn't remember the incident. But his father shed light on why he apparently thought there was a landing behind the portable bleachers.

The family lives in Steele, 40 miles from Bismarck. Family members often attend events at the Bismarck Civic Center, which uses curtains as dividers to separate first- and second-level seating. "And if you look across the floor at the Alerus Center, you see first and second tiers there, too," Shannon said. "So, his assumption was that there was a platform, and he was going to quickly grab the T-shirt and then get back to the game."

Paramedics who saw his leap were on the scene immediately, and his parents, sitting a few rows below him, were there within a minute.

"Almost immediate medical attention played a big part in having a positive outcome," Shannon said. "Getting him to the hospital in a matter of minutes was paramount."

It was a "mortifying" sight for Shannon and Cody's mother, Carmen. He had been knocked unconscious. Blood was coming out of his nose. Both wrists were pointing at odd angles, a sure sign they had been broken from absorbing the brunt of the fall. His head and pelvis also had struck the hard surface.


Although in obvious pain, Cody was alert and responsive to doctors' questions. X-rays and a CT scan showed a fracture from his eye socket to his cranium and bleeding on the brain.

Thirty hours after the fall, it was apparent the bleeding was getting worse, so brain surgery was performed to remove the blood clot. "Those first few days were excruciating for us," Shannon said.

But Cody weathered the brain surgery so well that wrist surgery was performed a few days later. The right wrist was "the worst the doctor had ever seen," Shannon said.

His left wrist has pins that eventually will be removed, but his right hand has a plate and four screws that will be permanent. "He can write with his right hand now, but it's slow and tiring," Shannon said.

"Doctors say his wrists will heal 100 percent and he should have close to 100 percent mobility in them. And they say the (forehead) scar should shrink down quite a bit."

Back to walking

Cody was in a wheelchair for a month because his fractured pelvis couldn't handle the load of walking. His mood brightened when he was able to walk in early April.

He undergoes physical therapy at least twice a week and also does exercises for his recovery. A three-sport athlete, he's driven to improve so he can return to competition.


He has muscle to regain, having lost 20 pounds, falling to about 115 on his 5-foot-10 frame.

He returned to school April 6, but rehab, doctors appointments, headaches and fatigue have made for sporadic attendance. The past week was his most complete week, even though headaches rocked him again.

"Headaches are common after traumatic injuries like this," Shannon said. "It will take some time. When he gets one, it incapacitates him, sometimes for the whole day.

"It's been emotionally tough on him. Some days he's down a little bit, frustrated, which is understandable. But overall, he's shown a good sense of humor and has been mostly upbeat."

Baseball is out for spring and summer, but playing football in the fall is a possibility depending on how much strength returns. He likes to stay active, enjoying hunting and fishing in addition to sports.

"It's been a big downer for him that he can't participate in rigorous activities and has been relegated to the sidelines," Shannon said.

Help and concern

The response of concern has been overwhelming. Altru nurses gave him the Hero Award, a monthly prize presented to a hard-working patient. The award comes with a $500 gift certificate from Wal-Mart and a T-shirt.


"We thought the T-shirt was kind of ironic, going through all that he has gone through to get a T-shirt," Shannon said.

Neighbors have helped the Wahls with snow removal and sandbagging. They held a fundraiser that attracted almost 500. The girls basketball team, which won the state title a night later, awarded him a signed basketball. Classmates and friends spent hours in the waiting room while Cody was in the hospital, even though they weren't able to visit him. Cards of encouragement have come from across the state and from strangers in other states.

"Everyone has been so great in helping wherever they can, and we can't ever thank everyone enough," Shannon said.

"But first and foremost, we thank God for his healing and recovery. A short time ago, we didn't know if we would have the same Cody that he was before.

"But doctors expect a full recovery."

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com .

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