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Horn family a story of survival

Zach Horn wants everyone to know that he did not fly 300 feet through the air before he landed on the ground near Interstates 94 and 29. And he was not popping a wheelie or speeding around a semi truck on his motorcycle either.

Its funny how people talk, Horn, an 18-year-old graduate of West Fargo High School, said. Stories kind of get out there and people just go with it.

Horns accident, which happened back on July 11, quickly became the stuff of urban legend. Whether it was because it was amazing that he fell from the I-94 overpass (about 50 feet to the ground below) or that he was in an induced coma for a couple of days, word spread like wildfire after the news of the unfortunate accident.

But Zachs crash was just one part of an incredible summer for the Horn family, who lives near Westside Elementary here in West Fargo. And after a terrible series of events that could only be described as a cloud over the family, as father Mike said, the sun is now shining at last on this party of five.

The saga actually began five years ago, when Mike was diagnosed with kidney failure and targeted for a transplant. He received his new kidney, but it, too failed him, thanks to a problem called positive cross-matching, a process where the donor may fit most profiles but there is a hidden problem when the organ is actually placed in the recipients body.

We were told that there were only a couple of people in the world who can deal with that issue, Mike said. They recommended that I go to Rochester (Minn.) and have the procedure done at Mayo (Clinic).

The process began last September, as Mike went through the application process for the special surgery. In January, Mike and his aunt, who had offered her kidney the first time Mike needed a transplant, headed down for preliminary tests. The doctors concluded that with the proper treatments, Mike and his aunt would be a match, and that the cross-matching issues could be contained with close supervision. The procedure would take place in May.

Back home in West Fargo, Mikes wife, Stacy, learned she was pregnant around the same time Mike went down for his preliminary tests. The couple would be welcoming their third child, to join sons Zach and Isaac (a fourth-grader at the time) in the summer of 2005.

As Stacys pregnancy progressed, Mike readied himself for the transplant, which took place around Memorial Day. At Mayo Clinic, he and his aunt were brought into surgery with Mikes mother, Marge Sullivan, and Stacy close by. Marge was to serve as Mikes primary caregiver, something Mayo requires of all donors.

I had a pretty good support group with me, and Stacy came to visit when she could, Mike said. It went pretty well once we got past the initial stages.

The procedure went smoothly, but Mike went through acute rejection soon after the transplant. After shocking his system with drugs, Mike doesnt remember a lot of the early part of June, while Stacy endured her third trimester and Zach celebrated his recent graduation from high school.

As Mike was nearing the end of his recovery, tragedy struck again.

Zach was finishing work at Cash Wise Foods in Fargo, where he has worked over the last two years. An avid motorcyclist, Zach was looking to go riding that Monday night with some friends. After making a few phone calls, he rode alone to the south Fargo Kmart on University Avenue. He never made it, losing control of his bike and falling to the ground below.

The officer showed some of my buddies what they kind of thought what happened, Zach said. They think hit the wall pretty much going straight and then rode the barricade for a couple of seconds before I dropped down. Its not like I was launched off my bike or anything.

Stacy was out for a walk, leaving Isaac at home with some friends, with a neighbor when the accident happened. By chance, she broke from her normal walking route and strolled by her sister, Michelle Storrustens house.

I remember I kind of looked into the window and didnt really see anyone there, so we kept going, she said. Then Brock (Michelles husband) yelled my name down the street, so we headed back. We never walk that way, but it was hot, and I was really pregnant, so I cut my usual route a little bit short.

She went back to her sisters house, where Michelle notified Stacy that she had received a call from Little Brock, Zachs cousin, who had been told of the crash by Zachs best friend, Troy Wambach. She was told that Zach had been in an accident, and that she should go to Innovis Hospital in Fargo.

We got Isaac and went over there, and I guess it was pretty close to 10 p.m., she said. It seemed like I got out of the van and there was a chaplain there and he took me to a room right away. I though Zach was gone.

Instead, the chaplain took her to the two state highway patrol officers that had responded to the scene. They told her of the crash, the fall and the extent of Zachs injuries.

Luckily, Zach was knocked out by the crash, and doesnt remember the fall at all.

I barely remember the day now, he said. I remember leaving work, thats about it.

Zach had lacerated his liver, punctured lung and broken his pelvis in several places. However, he was wearing a helmet, and, as a result, didnt suffer any serious brain injuries.

I told him he should be a spokesperson for the company that made that helmet, Stacy said.

The neurosurgeon still recommended that Zach be placed in a coma, where he remained for nearly 72 hours, while the swelling in his brain went down, and his body recovered from the shock of the accident.

Mike, meanwhile, was told of what happened that night, 300 miles away in Rochester. He informed his doctors, and though he had just a few days of treatment left before he was to be released, he headed to Fargo with his mother to be by his sons side.

When he arrived, he was told the news of Zachs fortunate landing. It seemed that since Zach landed in nearly a fetal position, his entire right side had shared the brunt of the fall.

It was almost a perfect way to land in that situation, Stacy said.

Thats when the Horns luck started turning. Despite the trauma and the pain she felt, Stacy hung on to her little baby that day. Zach slept for several days in the hospital, while Mike headed back to Rochester to complete his preliminary rehabilitation. He came home for good near the end of July.

Speaking of coming home for good, Zach was released from the hospital just 17 days after his terrifying crash. He would need physical therapy, speech therapy and would be under some close observation, but hed be ready for school at North Dakota State by the time that rolled around.

And Stacy delivered little Max Horn on July 31. Hes now four and a half weeks old, and has a great set of lungs on him.

I dont think all of it has set in yet, Stacy said. Its been absolutely crazy. I think weve all suffered a little head trauma, so to speak. But weve made it through.

Isaac, almost 11, said hes glad he doesnt have to head to the hospital any more, after both of his brothers and his dad spent so much time there.

Now fully recovered from his incident, Mike is getting his blood checked weekly, and will soon be down to getting tested once a month. Mike, who owns and operates Engravers Inc. at Valley Sporting Goods, said the family never would have made it without the help of the West Fargo community. Zachs friends and fellow families held fundraisers and made meals for the Horns, and the response from the town has been overwhelming, Mike said.

One fundraiser was a car wash held by Zachs classmates in late July. The seven-hour event raised more than $2,000 to help with the Horns medical bills.

Im thankful, but Im not surprised, Zach said. Thats just the way that a lot of my friends are.

Other helpful hands came along. A local restaurant donated proceeds from a coupon handed out at the car wash. And a bank account was set up to receive donations from community members who wanted a way to lend a hand. A couple of weeks ago, West Fargo teacher Bob Bjornson, who had Zach in a couple of classes, brought a crew of workers over to finish the permanent siding on the Horn house. It was a project Mike had started months ago, but couldnt finish.

Everyone has been so great, Mike said. It makes you happy to be in a community like this.