Miracle boy 4

Therapist Nancy Dobson watches as Curtis Bressler carries a glass of water down the stairs during a physical therapy session at Pediatric Therapy Services. Photo by Pat Christman

Miracle boy 3

Therapist Nancy Dobson watches as Curtis Bressler throws a bean bag toy through a spinning hoop while standing on a balance ball. Photo by Pat Christman

TRUMAN — Kirsten and Ron Bressler decided they'd be the ones to tell their 8-year-old son he would never walk again.

They recalled how overwhelmed they were by the stream of doctors who filed into a waiting room. The stray arrow that struck their youngest child in the chest had shattered part of his spine and he would be paralyzed from the chest down, the doctors told them. 

It would have been easier on Kirsten and Ron to let the doctors also break the news to Curtis, but they didn't want him to feel as overwhelmed as they did.

So when the moment felt right late one November night, Kirsten told Curtis.

“I told him he'll still be able to do everything he did before. He'll just do it in a different way in a wheelchair,” Kirsten recalled.

Three months later that wheelchair is folded up in a corner of their house in Truman.

Somehow, despite a diagnosis of a severed spinal cord, Curtis is well on his way to a full recovery after being accidentally shot by an archery arrow. The second-grader is not only walking again, he's jumping and climbing stairs.

“Sometimes we don't have explanations from a medical standpoint,” said Mayo Clinic pediatric surgeon Denise Klinkner in a video about Curtis. “But with this kind of outcome, I'm OK not having an explanation.”

The arrow that lodged into Curtis' spine was shot accidentally by one of his older siblings Nov. 3.

Kirsten was at work not far away when she got the call that there had been an accident. She rushed home and found Curtis unable to move but conscious.

As first responders provided first aid, she remembers Curtis was surprisingly calm as she repeatedly told him he was “in good hands.”

Curtis was flown by helicopter to Mayo Clinic in Rochester. His family had to drive to the hospital while not knowing whether their son and brother was still alive.

Relief he had survived dimmed the grief over the paralysis prognosis.

“I thought 'It's fine. It will be OK. At least he's still alive,'” Kirsten said.

Xray of Curtis' spine

The arrowhead penetrated Curtis Bressler's spine and severed his spinal cord, according to pediatric neurosurgeon Nicholas Wetjen. Photo courtesy of Mayo Clinic Health System

As Curtis began to regain feeling and then movement, his parents started to cautiously hope for a miracle. Too young to understand what a severed spinal cord meant, Curtis meanwhile was confident he'd prove the doctors wrong.

In late November he shocked his parents and medical professionals by taking several steps as he returned from physical therapy.

“I heard him giggling (in the hallway) and then he walked in. I couldn't believe it,” his mother said.

Just a few weeks later he was back home and in his second-grade classroom at Truman Public School.

Curtis uses a walker sometimes, but increasingly less and less. At physical therapy sessions in Mankato three times a week, he's meeting challenges including jumping and walking on a balance beam.

It's still unknown if Curtis will have any permanent mobility limitations, his mother said.

Mayo Clinic produced a video about Curtis' accident and his unexplainable recovery. It's been viewed over 14,000 times on YouTube since it was posted last month.

People Magazine got wind of the story and a reporter interviewed Kirsten for a not yet published article.

The video was also seen by someone from “The Doctors,” a CBS daytime health talk show. Producers invited Curtis and Kirsten to Hollywood, all expenses paid, to appear on the show.

“Looking at that picture and the trajectory of that arrow, I see that and I think, 'There's no way he survived that,'” said Dr. Travis Stork, the show's star, in the episode that aired Feb. 3.

Curtis with arrow

The arrow went 4 inches into Curtis Bressler's chest. First responders had to cut off the shaft to get Curtis into the helicopter. Photo courtesy of Mayo Clinic Health System

Despite getting a standing ovation as he walked out onto the stage, Curtis said he didn't enjoy being in the limelight. He rather would've spent the entire getaway swimming in the hotel pool, he said.

Curtis and his family have another getaway to look forward to this summer. The show gifted them with a trip to the Legoland Florida Resort.

While his ordeal has piqued an interest in biology and medicine, Curtis said he still wants to be a farmer when he grows up. He wants to raise animals and crops, just like his parents.

The family is grateful for the support they've received from the Truman community, Kirsten said. There were many gestures that made a big impact, she said, such as when Curtis' teacher came to Rochester to deliver assignments and do their planned parent-teacher conference. 

Multiple community fundraisers helped the family purchase a new bed and a wheelchair and will help pay the medical bills once they start to arrive.

Kirsten said she and her husband are choosing to focus on their son's recovery and not worry about the still unknown cost of Curtis' accident.

Miracle boy 1

Curtis Bressler leaps through an obstacle course under the watchful eye of his therapist Nancy Dobson during a session at Pediatric Therapy Services in Mankato. Photo by Pat Christman

The unneeded rental wheelchair will soon be returned. It was too late to cancel their order for a customized wheelchair that hasn't yet arrived. Kirsten said they plan to donate it to the pediatric rehabilitation unit at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

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Public safety and K-12 education reporter 507-344-6354

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