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Published December 31, 2010, 12:00 AM

Where Are They Now: Family remembers finding boy unconscious, outside in the cold

It was 10 years ago on Jan. 21 that Simon Nelson wandered out of his home in the middle of the night.

About this series

The holidays are when we remember years gone by and the memories they bring, both good and bad. Today ends the series in which Forum writers revisited ­stories from the past and the lives of those who told them.

It was 10 years ago on Jan. 21 that Simon Nelson wandered out of his home in the middle of the night.

His mother, Janna, awoke about 4 a.m.

She found the door to the family’s rural Hitterdal, Minn., home ajar, and she and her husband, Brian, went looking for their son.

They found 20-month-old Simon lying unconscious on the ground about 100 yards from the house.

At the hospital, doctors detected no brain activity in the toddler, whose body temperature had dropped to 69 degrees.

To warm him, doctors cut open his chest and hooked him to a heart-lung bypass machine.

Simon spent a week on a respirator as he recovered from pneumonia and frostbite to his hands, arms and face.

Today, 11-year-old Simon is on the “A” honor roll at school.

And he loves to explore the outdoors near his home, which he shares with older brother DeForrest, 14, and younger brother Connor, 7.

“I just pretty much play out there and we have a fort back in the woods,” said Simon, who is in the sixth grade at the Ulen-Hitterdal School.

His parents still don’t know how he got out of the house on that frigid night a decade ago.

As frightening as the experience was, they said it did little to quell their boy’s spirit of exploration.

During Simon’s stay in the hospital, a neighbor installed a gate in the Nelson’s home to thwart the youngster from making it down a set of stairs and repeating his earlier excursion.

“We weren’t home a week and you could hear that gate rattling,” Brian Nelson said, adding that even after 10 years, the fear of that night is difficult to forget.

“It’s not like it was a year after the incident, but it’s definitely still fresh,” he said.

Nelson said that aside from a scar on his son’s chest where the surgery was performed, Simon appears no worse the wear for his long stint in the cold.

“He’s doing just fine. As bubbly as ever,” Brian Nelson said.

While there’s no longer a need for the stairway gate, it is likely to remain in place for a while yet, Brian Nelson said.

“I guess it’s a keepsake-type thing,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555