MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Doctors call a Minnesota man’s recovery a miraculous event after a brain injury that left him in a coma.
Jason Christensen’s parents thought he’d die in the hospital bed after he suffered a lack of oxygen following a drug overdose.
Nine years later, Christensen is surprising doctors and family with what he can still do – something that has stayed with him his entire life.
“How do I feel? Good,” Jason said, after snapping his boots into his ski bindings at Buck Hill.
He was in fourth grade when he put on his first pair of skis, 25 years ago. And now at 37-year-old, Christensen is much bigger and much faster than he ever was as a youngster. He has the graceful style with a confidence that only comes with time.
Before The Coma
“We have these memories,” his parents, Dale and Chris, said while looking through a family album. “He was fast and a very solid skier.”
They took Christensen and his brothers to the Montana Mountains. There were church ski groups, too. The boys raced growing up.
“It was fun, but it was heartbreaking, too, when they would fall,” Dale said.
But slope wipe-outs on the slopes weren’t the hardest of heartbreaks Christensen’s parents would endure.
“Jason was unresponsive. Totally unresponsive,” said his mother, recalling the night she saw her son in the hospital.
Christensen was in a coma after overdosing on drugs. He lacked a sufficient oxygen.
“They said all his organs were shutting down,” his mother said.
She and Dale had little hope he’d improve.
“We were scared. And the next day, I thought we were going to be pulling tubes,” she said.
In fact neurologists told them Christensen would never be able to communicate.
What made the news even tougher was the fact his parents hadn’t seen Christensen in seven years. He had been estranged from his family. They had prayed they’d someday see him, and now that they had, they were praying he’d get better.
He did, and he came out of the coma.
“That was amazing for us just to see that,” his mother said. “And from that point on, it was miracle after miracle that we began to see.”
Christensen now lives at a home for adults with disabilities run by the nonprofit Restart. The organization is helping Christensen revamp his life.
Julie Anderla, the site manager at the home, said it the nonprofit’s goal to have all their residents be completely independent someday.
She said she remembers Christensen as a quiet, shy young man who came to live in the home, located in Brooklyn Center.
Staff has helped Jason communicate better and be more independent.
“After three-and-a-half years, I’ve see him open up more,” Anderla said. “He’ll ask me questions now, whereas before he’d only respond to different things.”
Back To The Slopes
There’s one thing Christensen doesn’t need to be taught: skiing. It’s like riding a bike. It naturally comes back to him.
“It’s miraculous! I don’t know any other way to put it,” said Dr. Gregg Dyste, a neurosurgeon at Metropolitan Neurosurgery. He’s treated other brain injury patients, but Christensen is unlike them. They fell into a vegetative state or even died.
Dyste said Christensen exceeded expectations and did better than anybody thought he would.
Christensen’s injury affected his short-term memory, Dyste said. That’s why Christensen is still able to ski.
“He knows how to do it well enough because he was such a proficient skier decades ago,” Dyste said.
Jason walks wobbly, because his muscles are rigid and stiff. But he skis smoothly because his feet are locked in his boots.
“It doesn’t require rapid movements,” Dyste said. “In fact, he really doesn’t have to lift his feet at all. He’s just gliding. It’s probably easier for him to ski than it is for him to walk.”
Jason isn’t afraid to challenge himself. He even hits a Black Diamond runs at Buck Hill.
Christensen’s parents are impressed with his progress. The racing son they raised has returned, and Christensen has confidence.
They remember a boy growing up with a smile on his face, and he now puts a smile on theirs. It’s a day his mother calls one of the happiest of her life.