• Neurology Patient Stories

    Astounding Recovery for an 8-Year-Old Boy Shot by an Arrow

Accidentally shot with an arrow that severed his spinal cord, Curtis Bressler’s doctors feared he’d never walk again. But Curtis proved them wrong. Today, he’s back to walking, running and jumping, just like any other 8-year-old boy.

It’s a story that plays out like a Hollywood movie. A young boy is accidentally struck by an arrow and narrowly escapes death. The arrow pierces the 8-year-old’s backbone and splits his spinal cord. He’s paralyzed from the waist down, and his doctors fear he’ll never walk again. But remarkably, the story has a happy ending.

It's not a script, however. It's the story of Curtis Bressler, of Truman, Minnesota, who was injured last fall when an arrow shot by his teenage brother ricocheted off the target and hit Curtis instead.

Mayo Clinic physicians examining the boy — who’d been airlifted to the Department of Emergency Medicine at Mayo Clinic Hospital – Rochester — quickly learned that the arrow had lodged itself in Curtis’ thoracic spine, severing his spinal cord.

The arrow somehow missed vitally important structures. If one of them had been hit, it’s likely Curtis would have died immediately. Yet it seemed clear to his physicians from Mayo Clinic’s Division of Child and Adolescent Neurology that Curtis would not walk again. Curtis’s mother, Kirsten, says she was OK with that. She was just happy Curtis had survived.

“They told us it had missed his pulmonary artery, his aorta and his heart, which he would’ve bled out on the spot. And my husband and I wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye to him by the time we got there,” Kirsten says. “So I was very thankful and sad at the same time.”

But Curtis was not OK with his prognosis. In fact, he didn’t believe it was true.

“I just felt that way,” Curtis says.

As he started rehabilitation therapy and began to learn how to maneuver his new wheelchair, sensations that were supposed to be lost began returning. Then one day he stunned his family and doctors by walking into a room.

Curtis’s recovery is baffling, say the pediatric neurologists who treated the boy

“Sometimes we don’t have explanations from a medical standpoint,” says Denise Klinkner, M.D., a Mayo Clinic pediatric surgeon. “But with this kind of outcome, I’m OK not having an explanation.”

Two months after the accident, Curtis was playing basketball almost as if the incident didn’t happen. And one day the whole thing, says Curtis, will be nothing more than “a distant memory.”

To hear more about Curtis’ story, watch the video below:



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