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Lesnar family going into Thanksgiving with an attitude of gratitude after medical scare

This Thanksgiving, one rural Webster family says they have more to be grateful for than ever before.

“Nothing else matters if you don’t have your family and your health. I thank God every day,” said Codi Lesnar last week while sitting in the darkened dining room of her home. Her husband Nick sat nearby her, the lights dimmed for his benefit. The brightness was still bothering him more than a month after he underwent an emergency brain surgery.

Codi described the events that followed a Sept. 26 episode when Nick came home for lunch complaining of his head hurting. While there, Codi asked the friend of one of her children, who was staying over, for directions to take them home. She said Nick spoke up and instructed her to go “past New York and take a left.” When she asked him to clarify, he repeated the same thing.

“It was so alarming, he kept saying ‘New York,’” Codi recalled. Codi noticed then that Nick’s smile wasn’t right, like it was crooked, she said. Looking back, Nick says he doesn’t remember the New York episode. In fact, he says he remembers very little of the first week that followed.

As Codi recalled, once at the Emergency Room in Webster, Nick underwent a CT scan which showed an old arteriovenous malformation (AVM) in his brain had begun to bleed. Doctors there instructed that he be flown by fixed wing to the Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls.

“He was worse by the time he got down there,” Codi said. “In Webster, they asked him ‘What’s your date of birth?’ and he said, ‘12-26-84.’ Then they asked him his address and he said, ‘12-26-84.’ ...by the time we got to Sioux Falls, he couldn’t even tell them his name.”

The Lesnars said they had known about the AVM’s existence previously. It was discovered three years ago after he contracted viral meningitis. Codi said they were told the knotted mass of blood vessels was inoperable at the time. Instead of removing it, Nick underwent gamma knife radiation for treatment. While he had continued with follow up MRIs over the years, this was the first time the AVM had caused any issues for Nick.

After arriving in Sioux Falls, Nick underwent a battery of tests and procedures to help the medical staff determine the best course of action, according to Codi. Doctors went through the femoral artery in Nick’s leg, tracing the route to the AVM in his brain to try to determine its exact location as well as occlude any vessels that fed the mass. Twice, Nick had to be awake for this type of procedure in order to check his fine motor skills and speech. According to Codi, three arteries fed the tangle of blood vessels and was so close to the speech center of Nick’s brain that doctors needed to determine if those also fed the speech center itself.

“That was fun,” Nick said sarcastically, and described being able to feel the doctors moving through his arteries and in his head. “It’s crazy how they do that.”

Nurses performed hourly neuro checks on Nick for the first four days after he was admitted. Nick said he felt like he hardly got any rest as nurses would wake him up at all hours of the day or night to go through a battery of questions and fine motor skills tests.

When contemplating surgery to remove the AVM, Codi said it wasn’t necessarily an easy decision. Due to the AVM’s location, she said, there was a major risk of permanent damage to Nick’s ability to speak.

“We kept asking, do we do nothing or take the chance? They told us there was a 60 percent chance of him having a brain bleed in the first year (if we did nothing),” she said. “We kept telling him, we all feel we want you here. He said, ‘It is what it is’ and ‘I’ll show them.’”

Finally, on Oct. 8, Nick underwent surgery. Codi said she praised Jesus that, due to the gamma knife radiation Nick had undergone, the AVM had decreased in size and the medical team was able to remove it completely.

“I always had confidence,” Nick said of the medical team who surrounded him.

Nick was released from the hospital just a few short days after his surgery. On Oct. 10, he walked back into his house just two weeks after the New York episode and surprised their kids.

While Nick says he’s not back to normal yet, he is having an easier time of catching himself when he gets his words mixed up. As a farmer, he said it’s been hard to stay home and not be out working all the time although he’s grateful for the friends and family who have helped with fall field work as he’s been going through this. Although he’s missing out on the majority of harvest, he did get to combine some corn and said he’s enjoyed the opportunity to spend more time with his kids and help with their homework.

Statistically speaking, Codi said there is a 10 percent chance the AVM could grow back. Nick already has a series of followup appointments scheduled for MRIs and angiograms to ensure things are still in their right place.

“We really can’t thank everyone enough. We are so grateful to have family, friends, our church, community and the medical teams. The list, it’s endless. I just thank God for all of those people,” Codi said. “We’ve never been so grateful going into Thanksgiving. It really is a miracle.”

While Nick agreed, he laughed and threw in what might sound like a typical South Dakota outdoorsman’s addendum: “I’m just wondering if I can deer hunt.”