'You would never know'
Alex Arneson is a standout athlete, holding positions on high school football, basketball and baseball teams.
Watching him on the field now, "you would never know he had gone through any of this," says his mother, RaeAnn Arneson.
"They had a football game last night and he led the team in tackles," says his father, Earl Arneson, during the fall season.
Alex was severely injured in a Feb. 5, 2018, car accident in rural Decorah, Iowa, on the way to school.
He came to Gundersen Health System in La Crosse by GundersenAIR with a concussion, injured spleen, severed urethra, fractured collarbone, deflated lungs, fractured pelvis on his right side, and broken left femur, RaeAnn says.
Alex, 15, underwent surgery to repair his femur with a permanent rod and left the hospital nine days later. "It's still a blur," RaeAnn says.
Alex returned home unable to bear weight on his right side and with a weak left leg. To learn how to rebuild his strength, the family turned to Gundersen Decorah Rehab Services, formerly Team Rehab, which joined Gundersen Health System in April.
Steve Krieg, MPT
"We had to get him back to fighting strength," RaeAnn says.
Physical therapist Steve Krieg, MPT, remembers meeting Alex while he was in a wheelchair. "He had a pelvic fracture and a leg fracture," Steve says.
They began working together twice a week, focusing initially on improving Alex's flexibility and range of motion in his left leg from a seated position.
"Right away, Steve pushed me hard," Alex says. "He was great to work with."
The volume of treatment sessions soon decreased but evolved to include a stationary bike, elliptical machine and trampoline as Alex regained his strength.
At every appointment, RaeAnn witnessed her son's progress.
"I think Steve was just as proud of him," she says. "He was easy to work with and knew how to push Alex where he needed to be."
Soon, Alex and Steve faced off on the clinic's basketball court.
"In about six months, we went from him being in a wheelchair and partial weight bearing to jumping and running," Steve says. "It was amazing to see that. It was quite miraculous."
The pair finished working together in mid-August when Alex regained strength in his left leg.
"I thought it was going to take a lot longer," Alex says.
Steve credited Alex's full recovery to his resiliency. Last fall, he played tight end and outside linebacker on Mabel-Canton (Minn.) High School's football team and this winter and spring returns to the basketball court and baseball field, where he rotates between the pitcher, catcher and shortstop positions.
"He wanted to get back to sports," Steve says. "He really impressed me."
The feelings are mutual, says RaeAnn, who added this was the family's first and only experience with physical therapy. "It was excellent care," she says. "Hopefully we don't ever have to go back, but if we do, I want my boys to go there."
For the Decorah Rehab staff, it's about treating each patient as an individual while building a connection that stretches beyond treatment for the clinic's full range of services, including orthopedic and postoperative rehabilitation; physical therapy for all ages; industrial rehabilitation; sports therapy; sports training and more.
"Appointments are usually longer than traditional doctor appointments, and you're working closely together, so you really get to know each other," Steve says.
Steve says he plans to attend one of Alex's games this spring, but before that, "I think I still owe him a game of one-on-one."
To learn more about Gundersen Decorah Rehab services, call (563) 382-4770 or visit gundersenhealth.org/decorah-rehab. In northeast Iowa, Gundersen offers rehab services in Decorah and Cresco and at Gundersen Palmer Lutheran West Union.