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Community Prayer Breakfast set for April 13

Ken and Wendy Besel are pictured with their children: Dayn (front left), Kyra (back right) and Treva (front right). (Submitted photo) 1 / 3
Ken and Wendy Besel. (Submitted photo)2 / 3
Ken and Wendy Besel. (Submitted photo)3 / 3

WORTHINGTON — A little more than three years ago, Ken Besel was at his job as a grain specialist at the elevator in St. James. It was expected to be an ordinary day.

On Feb. 5, 2016, Besel was working with a portable grain dryer, and the corn had started to smolder in the middle of the dryer. The fire department was called right away and, in the meantime, Besel ran to an outside building to retrieve fire extinguishers.

What transpired from there has been described by medical professionals — as well as from a spiritual standpoint — as a miracle. Besel, along with his wife, Wendy, will share their story during the Early Risers Kiwanis Club’s 26th annual Community Prayer Breakfast, scheduled for 8 a.m. April 13 at American Reformed Church in Worthington.

A fight for survival

Besel — the brother of retired Worthington educator Rich Besel — returned to the dryer and started emptying an extinguisher. This is when, according to Wendy, nobody saw him go down, as fire trucks were arriving and being directed to where they were needed.

“At this time, he came in contact with an electrical current that hit right between the middle of two heartbeats, which put him into cardiac arrest,” Wendy said. “We didn’t know at first that he had come in contact with something electrical. When he went into the emergency room, they just thought he’d had a heart attack.”

The fallen Besel was noticed quickly, and a fireman began attending to him right away with CPR. It wasn’t long before an ambulance transported him to the local hospital.

“Because he was in v-fib (ventricular fibrillation), the only thing you can do to get a person out of that is to shock them,” Wendy described. “I believe it was three or four electrical charges … to try and get his heart going again.”

The ambulance arrived at the hospital, and Wendy — an elementary school teacher in Butterfield — arrived shortly afterward.

“The man that was working with him (her husband) called and said that they found him lying about 10 feet from the dryer,” Wendy recalled. “I said, ‘Is he OK?’ and they said, ‘I don’t know.’ I said, ‘What did you see?’ They said, ‘I saw him and he was gasping for air, and then I don’t know if he was breathing after that.’”

Wendy watched medical staff continue with CPR efforts for 45 minutes, she said. They had done CPR for about 10 minutes before arrival at the hospital, too, for a total of 55 minutes.

“He was blue and he was cold,” Wendy said. “Essentially, he was dead.”

‘I’ve got a pulse’

Health care providers delivered electrical shocks with paddles 12 times, Wendy said, and then ultimately decided to do one more round of CPR.

“They all had worked so diligently and so hard — they were just sweating,” Wendy remembered. “There were quite a few of them working with him because it’s such a strenuous activity.

“I was crazy … I thought this just couldn’t be happening to us. I’d been married 36 years to the love of my life, and we loved being married and had three wonderful kids.

“Just when they were about ready to call it, one of the nurses said, ‘I’ve got a pulse.’”

That pulse didn’t waver, and it wasn’t long before Besel was taken via helicopter to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. That’s a trip of 32 or 34 minutes, Wendy said, and while her husband was being airlifted, she hurried home and packed a few things before being driven to Mayo by her daughter.

While en route to Rochester, Wendy received a call from a cardiologist wanting to know if she wished for a type of testing that would determine what caused Besel’s heart event (the electrical nature of what had happened wasn’t yet known). She was also reminded of the extensive CPR efforts that were done, and that “the results from that usually aren’t favorable.” She was also told the work was expensive, “but I had to know,” she said.

At 2 a.m. the next morning (Feb. 6), Wendy and family members met with a cardiologist and pulmonologist.

“The cardiologist asked ‘Why is he on an aspirin regimen?” Wendy said. “They said, ‘Take him off of it. His heart is pristine.”

Family members went on to ask multiple questions, including the Besels’ son, Dayn, a physical therapist, and his wife, Leah, an emergency room nurse. At that time, it was realized that what had taken place was a “brain event” with multiple unfavorable implications.

Signs of a miracle

After being in ICU for nine days, it was Feb. 14 and doctors has taken away all of Besel’s pain medication. They were doing frequent tests to determine if he had feelings in his arms or legs.

“He had two ischemec strokes in his spine,” Wendy said. “They told us he would never be able to walk or use his hands. We hadn’t been anticipating that at all.

“We met with his neurologist and asked what we could do to help him … we just felt like there was something we could do. “They just said to find a very good nursing home near your home —  they just thought he wouldn’t function (physically) or cognitively on his own.”

Besel was moved to the fifth floor at Mayo. Without medicine, staff wanted to see what he’d be able to do.

Two days later, Besel did something unexpected.

“He just flings one foot off the bed,” Wendy said, adding that she was quickly encouraged to damper her expectations. “They asked if it was a purposeful movement; ‘did you tell him to move his leg?’ They said, ‘No, that’s just a reflex.’”

The same sorts of things soon began happening with Besel’s hands, too, but doctors still believed the motion was reflexive as opposed to intentional. It wasn’t long before Besel started to ask questions such as what day and time it was.

“That whole next week was just unbelievable, and the doctors couldn’t explain it,” Wendy said. “He wasn’t supposed to be doing this, but he was. Then finally, that next weekend, I said, ‘We need to get him therapy.’”

Sharing their story

Wendy, through working with her husband, had learned he was able to comprehend things. For instance, he was able to put a deck of cards in sequential order and organize them by suits. But for about five weeks, she said, Besel didn’t know that she was his wife — or that he was a father or grandfather.

“He woke up with a blank slate,” Wendy said, adding that Besel maintained a sense of humor enjoyed by family and medical staff alike.

On March 6, Besel was moved to Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Minneapolis, where we had 10 days of physical, speech and occupational therapy. He was then “too good for the program,” described Wendy, so it was time for the biggest move of all.

“They sent us home, and we were both so scared,” she said. “It was like bringing a baby home from the hospital — actually, it was worse, because he could walk.”

For three days a week for at least a couple of hours at a time, Besel and Wendy went to a satellite clinic in New Ulm affiliated with Courage Kenny. He first graduated from physical therapy; last came speech. He continues with occupational therapy at home.

In the meantime, the Besels have shared the story of who Mayo staff deemed a “Miracle Man” at different locales. There have been presentations to the University of Minnesota occupational therapy department, as well as at local churches. In June, Wendy spoke at a Registered Nurses Convention in Mayo before a crowd of about 350 people.

“I was used to singing in front of a lot of people.” Wendy said. “Now, God has me speaking, too.”

The annual Community Prayer Breakfast in Worthington is a non-denominational event, and all in the community are invited. Tickets may be purchased at the following: Avera Medical Group Optometry (376-5535); Hy-Vee customer service (372-7354); Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce (372-2919) or an Early Risers Kiwanis member (370-2416).  

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

(507) 376-7320