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Published November 23, 2011, 11:30 PM

Norwegian exchange student thankful he was in North Dakota when brain aneurysm struck

FARGO – Magnus Fenes is thankful that when he suffered a ruptured blood vessel in his brain, he was thousands of miles from home.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

FARGO – Magnus Fenes is thankful that when he suffered a ruptured blood vessel in his brain, he was thousands of miles from home.

His family believes that if he had been home, on a remote island off the coast of Norway, he probably wouldn’t have gotten emergency surgery in time to save his life.

But he was lifting weights in the gym at Devils Lake High School when he was stricken Nov. 3 with a terrible pain between his temples.

Soon the foreign exchange student was whisked by air ambulance from Mercy Hospital in Devils Lake to Sanford Children’s Hospital in Fargo, where he will sample his first turkey dinner and experience an American Thanksgiving.

The 17-year-old’s mother will be with him. So will his host family. Magnus and his family know they have a lot to feel thankful about this year.

“When he came in, his pupils were fixed and there was no motor response,” Dr. John Hutchinson, the neurosurgeon who operated on Magnus, said Wednesday. “I was worried it was already too late.”

The culprit: a tangle of abnormal blood vessels in Magnus’ cerebellum, a region of the brain that controls movement and coordination.

“The odds were against him,” Hutchinson said. “I even debated whether to take him to surgery.” He went ahead. Magnus’ age was in his favor: Young brains are much better able to recover than those of even young adults.

Magnus’ close-cropped blond hair is growing back and gives no obvious sign of his recent surgery. He has started his rehabilitation.

“My walking is getting better,” he said. He is regaining his strength, and now is able to eat soft foods but has difficulty swallowing.

“He’s the same,” said his mother, Ann Paulsen. Some skills, like his algebra ability, aren’t what they were before the attack. “But it will come back,” she said.

The family is surprised at how helpful people have been, many of whom have noted their Scandinavian heritage.

“We are so thankful,” Paulsen said. “So many people have been so nice to us. It’s really good to be a Norwegian here in Fargo.”

In February, Fenes became the Scandinavian tae kwon do champion. In fact, he muses, given all the kicks and blows his noggin has taken, he’s surprised the blood vessels ruptured here.

“I got kicked in that so hard sometimes,” he said. Hutchinson said the abnormal tangle of blood vessels is something Magnus was born with.

Magnus hopes he’ll be able to resume his studies in Devils Lake, where he is enrolled as a junior. He’d like to give basketball a try.

“I just want to try everything,” he said. That includes sampling a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner.

“Everybody was talking about turkey,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522