April 24, 2023 at 1:47 p.m.
Given a new lease on life
During that span, lives can become altered and warped with a gamut of emotions.
Adam and Annie Hedlund and their young family know this to be true.
The Hedlunds milk 100 cows near Siren in Polk County, where they ship their milk to the Burnett Dairy Cooperative.
After a 15-month journey suffering and recovering from coronavirus-induced pneumonia, Jan. 11 marked the day of homecoming for Adam, who was in three hospitals in three corners of the state.
Adam had been admitted to the hospital in Amery Oct. 11, 2021, for complications from COVID-19. Doctors there determined he required a ventilator which prompted his transfer to a Minocqua hospital, where the nearest intensive care unit bed was available.
There, his health continued to deteriorate, and on Oct. 23, 2021, doctors decided he should be sent to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, where he would remain for over a year as an ICU patient for most of his stay.
Once he arrived in Milwaukee, Adam was placed on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, which oxygenated his blood outside of his body. He remained on the ECMO for six months. Adam was placed under sedation for much of November and December. By January 2022, the doctors determined the only way Adam would leave the hospital alive was with a double lung transplant.
Adam began the arduous task of grueling physical therapy to strengthen his body as much as possible in preparation for a transplant. By March, the doctors felt he was strong enough to undergo the procedure, and he was placed on the transplant list.
Adam received the gift of life in the form of two lungs April 5, 2022. However, the trauma to his chest cavity was so great that one of his new lungs became damaged from the bleeding and scar tissue. He was relisted for another right lung, which he received April 23, 2022 and was finally removed from the ECMO machine.
During all of this, Annie worked to keep their farm going with help from family and neighbors and to care for their two young daughters who did not understand where their dad had gone. Annie, at the time, was also carrying the couple’s third child. Their son was born in May 2022, just weeks after his father’s life-saving transplants.
For the next eight months, Adam continued to work toward being home.
After 13 months, he was taken out of ICU and placed into a regular hospital room. Then, he was moved to an in-patient rehabilitation facility for two weeks and was in out-patient care for two weeks before finally making his way home.
“There has definitely been some adjusting, physically and emotionally,” Adam said. “It’s been a big change, but I can feel that I am constantly getting better.”
The Hedlunds said their daughters – Azra and Analiese – started out shy around their dad but warmed up quickly while Atlas fast became his dad’s buddy.
Adam returned home on oxygen.
Since his return home, Adam has been working his way back into the operation of the farm, working with records and crop planning as well as running the skid loader.
“I really missed the farm, the cows, the crops,” Adam said. “There are older cows that are gone now, and new heifers that I don’t know; the milkhouse got rebuilt. There is just so much. I am especially looking forward to seeing the crops again this year.”
Adam said the gratitude they have for their family and friends who have helped them through the past year is immeasurable.
“I remember being in the hospital thinking we’d just have to sell the cows, that there was no way Annie could keep everything going on her own,” he said.
Adam’s father helped the family carry on.
“When he should have been retired, he came back to the farm and helped run everything,” Adam said.
Adam’s brother-in-law also took care of feeding every day before going to work.
“Our moms and aunts have been a huge help with the kids,” Adam said. “Annie took on so much responsibility on the farm besides the kids. We can never thank everyone enough.”
For Annie, selling the cows did not seem to be an option.
“Adam promised me he’d be home, so I knew I had to keep it going,” Annie said.
Annie’s joy at her husband’s homecoming is overwhelming for her.
“You don’t realize what a huge part one person plays in your life until they aren’t right there with you every day,” Annie said.
Adam said one of the hardest parts of his recovery was being cooped up indoors.
“In a year, I only got to get outside three times,” he said. “You don’t realize how important that is to you until you can’t do it.”
Now that he is home, the Hedlunds are tasked with juggling their farm and young family with Adams’ many appointments, physical therapy and dialysis. Because of the trauma suffered by his body, Adam’s kidneys suffered damage, and he will soon be placed on the list for a kidney transplant.
Adam must follow a strict regimen of medication. Besides anti-rejection medications, he is on eight to 10 other medications and supplements.
The Hedlunds said as they celebrate the one-year anniversary of Adam’s new lease on life, they realize the sacrifice that was made by another family to grant their wish.
“You try not to think about the bad part and just think about the good part: that someone who could no longer use their lungs gifted them to me,” Adam said. “The appreciation and respect I feel for someone to do this for another person, ... it is immense.”
Thinking about that selfless donor, and what the gift has meant to his young family, is emotional for Adam.
“It was pretty hard, everything I have been through,” he said. “I dreamed of getting home, and sometimes I was afraid I wouldn’t make it home. Now, I am with my family, and sometimes I wake up and am afraid it is all just a dream; but it’s not, it’s real, and I am here.”
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