Whenever they went rock climbing in some desolate Rocky Mountain outback, he was the one to take the lead, setting the anchors, testing each foothold and calming her fears as they dangled in harnesses 1,000 feet above the ground. Don’t worry, you can do this, he’d say.

Friday, in the foyer of Courage Center, Jeanine Brudenell signed in her husband, Pat Mackin, for another medical appointment, one of four that day. Mackin was in a motorized wheelchair. He can’t move the right side of his body, and they had just learned that morning that the blindness in his right eye was permanent. While he can understand everything going on around him, he can no longer speak.

It’s been a grueling 15 months for Mackin and Brudenell, since that early December morning when a drunken driver slammed into Mackin’s car, nearly killing him. He was on the way home from the Minnesota Music Café, where he had a gig as a saxophone player.

Emergency responders had to revive Mackin at the scene. He needed several surgeries to repair his ruptured diaphragm, lacerated liver and dissected aorta. Doctors had to stabilize his broken neck.

“He’s lucky he’s a very strong person,” said his wife. “He never would have survived if he wasn’t.”

After months, Mackin began to gain strength, and with it the hope that he could at least play music again, if not climb mountains. Since then, however, he’s suffered a stroke and more recently, seizures that put him back into care facilities.

If you think that’s stressful for the family, consider that Brudenell is also a Minneapolis police officer, assigned to the Fourth Precinct that has been the center of attention in recent months. She has worked off and on throughout the ordeal and hopes to return full time next month.

They are an unlikely couple, friends say, a saxophone player who also led rock- and mountain-climbing trips, and the urban cop, drawn together by their passion for the outdoors and music.

“It’s a hell of a love story, isn’t it?” said Patty Peterson, a renowned singer who has played in bands such as Northcoast and Open Road with Mackin since they were teens.

“He’s always been a dedicated saxophonist — he plugged in and was ready to go,” said Peterson. “He’s a sweet person, but he also didn’t take any crap from anyone. I thought if anyone could survive this, it would be Pat.”

“It’s just been a roller coaster,” said Michon Brudenell, Jeanine’s sister. “They are just constantly on the edge. This would be a terrible situation for anyone, but for someone with passions that he can no longer do, it’s especially sad.”

Peterson said when Mackin was in a coma, she and other musicians would go and sing to him. As he woke from the coma and got better, he tried a little one-handed playing. After the setbacks, however, even listening to music can be difficult because he listens to it intently, as any musician would, and it stresses his brain because of the trauma.

“Pat, is it difficult to listen to music?” asked his wife. Mackin nodded his head yes.

The drunken driver was convicted and sentenced to nine months in the work house. She is now free. Mackin still suffers.

Given numerous setbacks, “I think if we get past a couple of things he can recover quite a bit,” said Jeanine Brudenell. “I guess I’ve adapted to the fact that he’s permanently disabled, and we have to make it comfortable for him to live.”

Mackin finally returned home a couple of weeks ago and is settling in. Asked if he was happy to be home, Mackin mouthed “yes.”

The 1950s rambler needs to be completely renovated to accommodate Mackin’s disabilities and medical equipment, however. Many medical expenses are not covered, including a personal care attendant.

Friends and family are trying to help and recently set up a GoFundMe donations website: bit.ly/1REDEBD.

After the crash, one of his friends brought back a piece of mountain rock from a hiking trip and gave it to Mackin.

“Your job is to put it back,” he told Mackin.

“I think Pat wants to be that person, the person who wants to bring the rock back,” said Peterson. “The guy has been an inspiration to all of us.”


jtevlin@startribune.com 612-673-1702