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Ada-Borup sophomore enjoying return to court after open heart surgery, credits physical for saving life

Ada-Borup-West sophomore Brennen Fetting underwent open heart surgery on Sept. 30 after a routine sports physical led to the discovery of a heart tumor the size of a tennis ball.

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Ada-Borup-West sophomore Brennen Fetting is relishing in his return to sports after he underwent open heart surgery Sept. 30. Photo special to The Forum
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ADA, Minn. — Ada-Borup-West sophomore Brennen Fetting underwent open heart surgery on Sept. 30. Less than two months later, he was in the gym for the first day of basketball practice.

“I was always set on playing as soon as I could,” Fetting said.

Fetting plays on ABW’s junior varsity and C teams. He was advised to take it easy after a tennis-ball sized tumor was removed from his heart seven weeks prior to the start of the season, but the 16-year-old doesn’t do much at a moderate pace.

“He was chomping at the bit, ready to get going,” said head junior varsity boys basketball coach Nate McCraven.

After missing his sophomore football season, nothing was going to keep Fetting, a three-sport athlete for the Cougars, off the court — or from going full throttle — once he was medically cleared to play.

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Ada-Borup-West sophomore Brennen Fetting couldn’t wait to get back on the court after a heart tumor sidelined him for the entire fall football season. Photo special to The Forum

Fetting went in for a routine physical in August, before the football season. His primary care physician heard a heart murmur and referred him to a cardiologist at Sanford Health in Fargo. He was kept off the field until he could undergo further testing.

Brennen and his mom, Angie, arrived at Sanford for his cardiology appointment days before ABW was slated to face its rival Mahnomen-Waubun on the gridiron. There were no concerns heading into the appointment, aside from a big section football matchup later that week.

Angie knew something was wrong when the cardiologist came back with the results. An echocardiogram revealed a tumor, and Brennen was in surgery a week later.

“We weren’t too worried about it,” said Peter Fetting, Brennen’s dad. “We’ve had other friends and people we’ve known whose kids have had heart murmurs, and they went and got them checked out and said ‘it’s no big deal, it’ll function normally.’ So that’s kind of what we were thinking, that it wasn’t going to be a big deal.

“I guess the shock of it all didn’t really hit until we went to see Dr. Miranda at Sanford, when he came out with his information.”

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Ada-Borup-West sophomore Brennen Fetting underwent open heart surgery Sept. 30 to remove a tennis-ball sized tumor inside his heart. Photo special to The Forum

Brennen shook his head after hearing the diagnosis. The thought of missing the entirety of his sophomore football season, and the last one with his brother, Beau, a senior at ABW, ran through his mind.

“For me, honestly, it was just about not being able to play that football season,” Brennen said.

“It’s a shock,” Angie said. “You don’t expect that."

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The Fettings never saw it coming. There were no alarm bells. Brennen was full of energy and active. Other than the heart murmur, he had no symptoms.

“You would’ve never known something was wrong with him,” Angie said.

The following week, Brennen was in Minneapolis at M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital prepping for open heart surgery. “Everything happened so fast,” Angie said.

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Peter, Brennen, Beau and Angie Fetting

Initially, the family thought the tumor was on Brennen's heart, not in it. Knowing that the surgical team would have to stop his heart from beating to operate was another jolt in the whirlwind week.

Angie and Peter waited nearly seven hours while the surgical team operated on Brennen. They paced, napped and did what they could to pass the time.

“We were so tired for over a week of worrying and not sleeping,” Peter said. “With COVID, you’re not allowed to do much in the hospital, either.”

The tumor was removed with no complications. It was diagnosed as a myxoma, which is a noncancerous tumor, and had grown to fill his entire left atrium — the heart’s upper left chamber. His medical team figured the tumor had been in his heart for a few years, Angie said.

“When we did the operation, it was shocking to think how Brennen was still able to be active with this mass inside his heart,” said cardiac surgeon Sameh M. Said, who removed Brennen’s tumor, in a story on M Health Fairview’s website .

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Ada-Borup senior Beau Fetting, left, scored five touchdowns to lift the Cougars to an upset win over Mahnomen-Waubun days after finding out his brother, Brennen, right, would be undergoing open-heart surgery for a tumor. Photo special to The Forum

Though myxomas are benign, they can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening if left untreated.

“If he wouldn’t have gotten this removed, it would’ve blocked his one valve, which would have stopped the blood flow to his heart,” Angie said. “So, he would’ve been dead.”

Brennen was out of the hospital in two days and back home in three. He was sent home with a medicine ball that blocked the nerve area where his incision was.

Typically, open heart surgeries go through the chest, but the surgeon was able to access his heart through an incision under his armpit, an approach that essentially cut Brennen’s recovery time in half of what it would’ve been, Peter said.

"That could've changed his whole year in sports," Peter said. "But everything works out for the best."

Brennen took a week off from school and returned to the sidelines for ABW’s next football game. He missed just one game this season, when he was in the hospital. Brennen supported his teammates from the sidelines all season, just like they rallied around him.

The Cougars, who went 8-2 and reached the section championship this fall, played their season for Brennen. They pulled off a 21-point upset win over Mahnomen-Waubun days after hearing about their teammate's heart tumor. Beau scored all five touchdowns for the Cougars in that game. Beau and Brennen are the youngest of six Fetting boys.

“The emotional part of it for me was watching my team beat (Mahnomen-Waubun) 33-12 and my brother score five touchdowns,” Brennen said on his diagnosis and surgery. “Being there, watching him do that and knowing that he did it for me. It was just awesome.”

Angie gets emotional talking about the support from the community, as well as Brennen’s doctors and nurses.

“For being such a traumatic thing going through, it has been a good experience,” she said. “Everybody is just amazing.”

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The Ada-Borup-West Cougars devoted their regular-season rivalry win over Mahnomen-Waubun to sophomore teammate Brennen Fetting, No. 22. Photo special to The Forum

When Brennen was cleared to play basketball, it was good news for both him and the players, McCraven said.

“We’re definitely glad he’s out this year,” McCraven said. “He’s an awesome teammate. He just brings a lot to the table. Not only is he very athletic and very skilled and smart and has good court and field sense in all the sports he plays, but he’s such a good friend to all of his teammates.

“Even this football season, having him standing and watching on the sidelines, he still brought what he could to the table and made everybody better, without even putting on a football helmet.”

Now three months removed from open heart surgery, Brennen said he feels great. Angie and Peter say the physical likely saved their son's life.

“I guess I’ve always been one of those guys that thought (physicals) were kind of a joke — if they’re young let them play. You don’t need a physical,” Peter said. “But this has changed my mind now.

"If he wouldn’t have had this physical, they said it’s a good possibility he wouldn’t be here the next year, with the way that tumor was.”

Carissa Wigginton is a high school sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. A Fargo native, she graduated from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Wigginton joined The Forum’s sports department in August 2019.
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