Back on the court: Paynesville's Houske enjoying basketball again following lengthy recovery from serious automobile accident 2 years ago

Friends are nice to have anytime, but they're vital after a serious injury. One of the first to show up at Michael Houske's bedside at Hennepin County Medical Center was Cory Nietfeld, a teammate on the Paynesville High School basketball team. "I...

Friends are nice to have anytime, but they're vital after a serious injury.

One of the first to show up at Michael Houske's bedside at Hennepin County Medical Center was Cory Nietfeld, a teammate on the Paynesville High School basketball team.

"It was six days (after the accident) and he was on (painkillers) and pretty sleepy, but he looked pretty normal," said Nietfeld, the Bulldogs' all-time leading scorer. "Right away, he started talking about playing basketball again."

Houske's injuries were internal: six broken ribs, a concussion, a pelvis broken in three places, liver wounds and a severed urethra.

On Memorial Day, 2005, he was a front-seat passenger in a car with two friends. They were on the way to shoot driveway hoops.


Crossing from a township road onto Highway 71/23 near Eagle Lake, north of Willmar, the car cleared the southbound lanes of the divided highway but was struck broadside as it pulled into the northbound lanes.

The impact was on Houske's side door. It took an hour to extract him.

He was airlifted to the HCMC where he would spend the next 3½ weeks. Four others were injured, but all were released from Rice Hospital in Willmar by the end of the day.

One of the first friends Houske made in the hospital was Dr. Carl Smith, head of urology at the HCMC.

"Dr. Smith seemed to take a liking to Michael," said Rick Houske, Michael's father and a Paynesville teacher. "Even after Michael went home, he'd call and check on Michael. He made a big difference in Michael's recovery."

Michael had 12 operations over the next 10 months. First was a hands-on operation in which doctors manually rotated his pelvis back into place.

By contrast, reattaching the urethra took the finesse of watchmakers. Through each critical surgery, he was supported by family, including his mother Gale, and older sisters Jana and Joy.

Michael was confined to bed and unable to walk. Cards and calls poured in from Willmar, where the Houske's moved 14 years ago, and also New London, Spicer and, of course, Paynesville.


Teammates visited. The Melrose basketball team sent a card. Nietfeld and Bulldog teammates Elliot Wall and Colin Spooner were regular visitor in Minneapolis and Willmar. His Willmar friends Brin Hanson and George Jacobson, who were in the car with Michael, and Jason Scheffler came by often. His former youth coach, Wally Thyen, a retired storekeeper, took special interest in visiting the broken athlete.

Fox TV sports producer Trevor Fleck, a Regal native and Paynesville graduate, brought Houske baseballs signed by Jacques Jones, Bert Blyleven and Kent Hrbek and introduced him to Timberwolves announcer Jim Peterson, since one of Houske's interests is broadcasting.

Houseks, now a senior, had just ended his sophomore year at the time of the accident. He had a promising varsity career in front of him. At 6-foot-3 with a good shot, he had played JV and also had seen time on varsity.

He turned 17 two days after he left the hospital on June 25, 2005.

"(The doctors) told me I probably wouldn't be able to play basketball again," he said. "Not being able to walk for so long was the hardest part of whole thing."

He was bedridden much of the summer and didn't walk without crutches until the middle of October. He lost 32 pounds.

"It was a long process getting to walk on his own," said his father.

He had a home tutor. There was therapy sessions at Rice, the Paynesville hospital and at home.


By early December, 2005, he returned to the classroom for three hours each morning. By noon he was exhausted and would go to relatives to sleep until his dad's day had ended at school.

He sat behind the Bulldogs' bench on game nights. By late January, 2006, he was back in school full time. Counting later operations, he would miss 112 of 170 school days his junior year.

The feel for a basketball came back more slowly than the school work. Nothing had been more natural than taking a jump shot from 19 feet. Now it was hard work.

"My legs were a lot weaker," said Michael, who joined the team in November after a two-week bout with mononucleosis. "And there's just no endurance."

"He missed a couple of weeks right at the start, otherwise I'm sure we would be using him more," said head coach Phil Carlson, who is in his fifth year heading the Bulldogs' program. "We're 11 or so deep this year so I can't always get Michael as many minutes as he or I'd like, but he makes contributions in other ways. He talks to the guys in a positive way but he can also get on them."

At practice, Carlson said Houske's hard work is an example for the team.

"He's getting physically better all the time," said Carlson.

Nietfeld says of his "very good friend" since fifth grade: "Michael sees the court like he used to; he's like his old self. He's just about back to where he was."


By the end of his convalescence, a visitors' log showed over 1,000 entries.

Surely, Michael appreciates his friends and family more than ever. Anything else?

"Yes," he replied. "Don't take anything for granted."

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