Inspiration will lead the Minnesota State University, Mankato, football team onto the field next week in the form of honorary captain Isaac Kolstad, a former linebacker who was nearly beaten to death almost four months ago.
Kolstad’s survival, let alone his ability to walk and talk, was in doubt for weeks as he lay in a coma with a portion of his skull removed to alleviate brain swelling. Now he’s walking, working on talking, and eager to return to work and watch his former teammates in Thursday’s home opener with St. Cloud State. That’s according to a lengthy update from his wife, Molly Kolstad, on his CaringBridge site and in comments to KTOE-AM Radio in Mankato.
The 2013 Minnesota State graduate has proved he’s more than up to the trip onto Blakeslee Field. He stopped by this week to see former teammates practice.
“It didn’t take him long to hop on the field and try out some drills,” Molly Kolstad wrote. “Back pedaling, getting low, high knees and a little running were some he was able to do with them. Then at the end of practice he sent the team off with a cheer, a little motivation, for their upcoming game.”
Kolstad, 24, suffered a devastating brain injury in a May 11 fight in downtown Mankato. Former University of Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson of Mankato and Trevor Shelley have been charged with assault. Since being injured, Kolstad has been in the hospital in Mankato or in rehabilitation in St. Paul.
In the home opener, the Mavericks will wear a “22Strong” decal on their helmets in honor of Kolstad, who played with them the past three seasons.
Molly Kolstad provided an uplifting progress report about her husband’s recovery visit home from rehab. His Mankato tour included a surprise stop to see co-workers at Fastenal and a brain scan with his neurosurgeons at the Mayo Clinic Hospital System-Mankato Hospital.
“Isaac now talks about Fastenal all the time and is excited to go back to work,” Molly Kolstad wrote.
The neurosurgeons at Mankato Hospital were in “awe” as Kolstad walked down the hall to his appointment, she wrote. “I don’t think I will ever get the [image] of their heads peeking out of their offices with smiles so wide and bright with excitement,” she said.
His scan showed additional impressive progress — no more excess fluid on the brain.
Comparing the new scan with the one from the night of the attack, Molly Kolstad said she could see why doctors warned the family that if Kolstad survived, they should “expect the worst.”
“But against all odds here we are, walking, talking, laughing, and working hard,” she wrote.
Recently, Kolstad has been able to shed the belt bracing him as he walks — another move toward independence. His gastric feeding tube is out. He is back to a normal diet and gaining weight.
Speech remains a struggle. He can’t find the right words and his hand gestures don’t always communicate what he wants to say.
But the progress has been huge.
His visit to the hospital included a trip to the intensive-care unit room where his fate dangled precariously for six weeks as his family prayed harder than they thought possible, Molly said. The room was silent and vacant when they revisited it.
As a “family, we have waited so long to see Isaac walk through the ICU and that was such an exciting moment,” she said. “But Isaac was most excited for being back on the football field.”
She closed with: “Marathon On! Always #22Strong”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747