Willmar Notebook: Brady Damhof comeback on course
On a Saturday morning in early October, 2009, a shotgun went off when a duck hunter stumbled in the field.
Up ahead a few yards, the blast hit Brady Damhof in his back left shoulder and upper arm.
His bone and muscle full of shot, a medevac helicopter landed and carried the 13-year-old from the field near Svea to North Memorial Medical Center on the northwest edge of Minneapolis in Robbinsdale.
Devastating mishaps are life-changing events. But through eight operations, seven months of physical therapy, heartache, pain and bouts of gloom Brady persevered. He seems whole again mentally and athletically.
At first, doctors doubted he should ever attempt competitive athletics again for fear of another traumatic injury. But with the encouragement of family, friends, teachers and coaches, he's again a three-sport athlete.
He's changed two of his sports out of need to protect his shoulder from a jarring blow. Instead of football in the fall and baseball in the spring, he plays soccer and golfs for the Cardinals at Willmar High School. He continues playing basketball, excelling on defense.
This past weekend, he shot an 84-89-173 at the Willmar/Litchfield Invite. The second day at Eagle Creek Golf Course was played in rain and cold, a day that boosted nearly everyone's score. Of the 11 varsity golfers who played both rounds for Willmar, Brady's score ranked seventh best.
"When it's cold I don't have much feeling in my left hand so I grip the shaft like a baseball bat [instead of the interlocking grip]," he explained.
The main nerve in his left arm died but is coming back slowly; it may take 10 years, a doctor told him. The principle artery was reconstructed using an artery cut from his lower leg.
Brady misses those original two sports he played but says he "loves soccer" where he played midfield and defense for JV I while wearing a shoulder brace. He's always played golf growing up, mostly at Valley Golf Course, where his mother Betty works part-time. But not being able to join VFW baseball when the time came was an emotional setback.
For such a young man, Brady is exceptionally well spoken and forthcoming about the difficulties he's faced in his teens.
"Yes, there was a lot of pain," he responded to the reporter's question. "It's just something you had to fight through. I might take an Ibuprofen."
He returned to school for half-days two months after the Oct. 3 injury. Therapy sessions at Rice Rehab were five days a week. The sessions tapered to twice a week by the time he finished eighth-grade.
"My physical therapist [Mary Nesset, now at ACMC] was phenomenal," said Brady. "There were days I came in full of anger and depressed and didn't want to work. She pushed me. She put up with a lot from me but gave me the strength to keep going."
He expressed gratitude to his plastic surgeon, Dr. Jonathan Witzke, at North Memorial.
"That day I ended up at the hospital one of the best doctors ever was on call," said Brady.
His scared shoulder slopes, he says, more than his right shoulder but his range of motion appears near normal on his backswing, which he demonstrates. His drives might be longer but his iron game is strong and he feels he's particularly good at getting out of trouble.
He was told he couldn't take the chance of being hit in the left shoulder, which points at the pitcher, by a fastball or taking hard hit in football. If that happened, all the precision work would likely be undone in an instant.
There's a visible patch of scare tissue that covers much of the inside of his left forearm. He explained it is where the arm ballooned when the new artery went on line and began carrying copious amounts of blood to the hand.
The recovery took its toll mentally on the teenager.
"It was a lot of stress," he told me at the practice range on Tuesday.
"Some days I didn't want to be here, be in the world," he said. "But I knew it would be hard for my family if I wasn't here.
"God allowed this to happen for a reason. Hopefully, it will come clear in the future. Maybe, I'll end up playing in the PGA," he said smiling and laughing at the thought.
His parents, Keith, a truck driver, and Betty, a school social worker, have lived through every up and down along the way. So too has his older brother Jacob, who is now a freshman at St. John's University where he is out for football and baseball.
"Jacob wrote in his [senior] portfolio that I was his "Biggest Hero," said Brady. "That meant a lot."
A community fundraiser at Kennedy Elementary school drew 1,200 well-wishers and raised thousands. Support also was received from the Tim Orth Foundation at Bird Island.
Though a horrific accident, it could have been much worse. There was no damage to major organs.
There are at least two more surgeries up ahead that will move an artery in his shoulder and work on scar tissue. Be sure, the teen golfer will continue to play through.
Editor's note: At Wednesday's junior varsity conference meet at St. Cloud, Brady led the Cardinals with a round of 39.