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Fiegen back on track after long summer; MHS basketball player had series of seizures - Daily Leader Extra : Sports

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Fiegen back on track after long summer; MHS basketball player had series of seizures

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Posted: Monday, December 2, 2019 2:47 pm

(Editor's note: The following is written by Andrew Sogn, assistant sports information director for South Dakota State University.)

January 18, 2018

July 19, 2019

October 30, 2019

Three dates that will forever mark the life of Jackrabbit redshirt freshman Aaron Fiegen.

The first came in the middle of Aaron's senior season at Madison High School as the Bulldog basketball team visited Dell Rapids.

Aaron was a prep star for the Madison Bulldogs, earning Class A All-State honors his final two years while leading his team to the 2018 Class A State Championship.

That January night, though with parents, Ed and Patti, brother, Tony and grandparents in the stands, the Fiegen family knew something was wrong.

"I had come to the bench, was hit with a big white flashing light then everything went out," Aaron said. "I was aware of what was happening but couldn't see or really do anything. It definitely freaked me out."

"I just remember it being really puzzling," Patti recalls. "As soon as we got him out of the gym and laid him on the floor, he was fine and wanted to go back in."

That the first of what would become hundreds of seizures the Fiegen family would endure over the next 18 months, as Aaron saw one or two episodes a month turn into daily seizures by spring of his freshman season at SDSU.

An episode the night of the 2018 high school championship and occasional seizures during the summer workouts at SDSU were worrisome, but the family still thought it could be flash migraines, an original diagnosis from the January incident.

That, coupled with Aaron's newfound independence as a college student no longer living at home, helped disguise the fact that something bigger was going on.

During the Jackrabbits' summer trip to Canada in 2018 though, it became clear it was time to act.

"We were practicing before our first game on that trip, and when he went to grab a drink he couldn't find the water fountain," assistant coach Rob Klinkefus said. "Then, when we talked to him he couldn't remember going to get a drink."

Coaches and teammates started to keep a closer eye on him at that point, and realized there were a lot of moments when Aaron would lose concentration and "forget what had just happened," Klinkefus said.

"The coaches reached out and said, `I think you need to get Aaron checked out'," Aaron's dad Ed recalls. "That's when the major journey started."

That journey brought doctor visits, countless adjustments to prescribed medicines, dark days of worry and a constant wondering of what was next.

"I was afraid that Aaron was going to have to give up his dream," Ed shares with a touch of emotion in his voice.

Referrals to neurologists in Sioux Falls included Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans and Electroencephalograms (EEGs), and the doctors saw the Cavernous Hemangioma, a benign vascular tumor where a collection of dilated blood vessels form a lesion, in Aaron's brain.

Able to see only partial seizures take place on the EEG, though, doctors were forced to make a determination based off the information available.

Medicines were prescribed, adjusted and changed over the course of seven months, but a cure wasn't coming.

"I know there was a lot of frustration or discouragement that it wasn't working," Ed said. "The medicine wasn't solving the problem or the cure. It may have slowed the seizures down but didn't fix them."

Aaron and his family decided it was time to get answers, and they headed for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

There Aaron underwent another MRI, then a more-intensive EEG that lasted three days in May 2019. The extra time allowed the doctors to capture complete seizures for the first time, and brought life-changing results.

"I was frustrated because after a day and a half we hadn't seen anything on the EEG, but then I had two episodes late in day two and they were able to check them out."

New information helped the doctors realize Aaron was having intractable seizures, which are uncontrollable by medicine, and they were coming from part of his brain next to the Hemangioma. Surgery was decided as the best course of action.

July 19, 2019, Aaron went under the knife to remove the tumor.

"That day was the worst day of our lives, but also the best day," Patti remembers.

The neurosurgeon shared that 85% of patients who have the surgery to remove the source of the bleeding will be seizure free the rest of their lives, and while Aaron was immediately onboard, Patti had to deal with the what-ifs using her background as a registered nurse.

"It took an immense amount of faith in God, but we were in great hands."

After the surgery was complete, it was clear the risk paid off.

"It was unbelievable," Patti said. "He woke up just as we had left him, but he was fine. Twelve hours later his neurosurgeon came to see him, and told us he was doing so well we could probably take him home the same day."

The journey had some bright moments, too, as Aaron and Patti grew closer than ever thanks to road trips to Sioux Falls and Rochester, and late-night phone conversations.

"My family, and specifically my Mom, helped me through a lot of it," Aaron shares. "We spent a lot of nights on the phone and would talk a lot."

Patti knows she'll remember those moments forever.

"We talked a lot about how in all of our lives, we all have crosses to bear," Patti said. "For whatever reason, this was Aaron's cross. He and I shared a lot of tears through the year and prayed a lot together. I made it my mission to be his advocate because we wanted the best quality of life for him."

Aaron also brings up basketball, noting that when times were tough, he relied on teammates, coaches and his love of the game to help him through.

Patti, too makes note of the team's importance.

"If he had not been on the team and surrounded by his teammates, and specifically his roommates Owen King and Matt Mims, I really wonder how long it would've taken us to figure out something was really wrong. They knew something was off and they helped get others involved."

The final date, Oct. 30, 2019, saw a dream realized.

Aaron grew up around Jackrabbit basketball, watching his brother Tony wear the yellow and blue from 2009-13. He was in the stands when Tony and the Jackrabbits clinched back-to-back Summit League Tournament Championships in 2012 and 2013, and cheered for State in the NCAA Tournament games against Baylor and Michigan.

So when it came time to make a choice in November 2017, picking South Dakota State was an easy decision.

Then came the seizures. The worry. Frustration.

"I was starting to think I would never get to play again," Fiegen said.

In an exhibition game against Mount Marty, though, the 6-7 forward heard Coach Henderson call his name.

"It was a dream come true, and it felt like a dream at the same time," Aaron said. "It was a dream to wear the Jackrabbit jersey in a game, and it felt like a dream because a year before I couldn't have pictured myself even playing again."

For Ed and Patti, it was a moment of elation.

"If you go back to a year ago, I was worrying and thinking that would never happen," Ed remembers. "I'm so thankful for so many people that he's going to get to live his dream. You want that for your kids. He worked so hard."

Ed also flashed back to three months prior, when Aaron underwent major brain surgery.

"For him to recover and be back in three months was amazing. It's very special and a huge blessing for us."

As life returns to normal, the Fiegen family can't help but burst with pride and thankfulness.

"We have our Aaron back," Ed said. "Patti and talk about that a lot. I admired his courage and perseverance through this. I'm so proud of him for that and I can't say that enough. I don't know how much we've told him that, but he needs to know."

Ed shares further a plethora of thank-you's, ensuring his teammates, coaches, doctors and athletic training staff, and all of Jackrabbit nation know what they mean to the Fiegen family.

"Every game I go to I have people I don't even know come up to me to offer support and tell me they were praying for Aaron."

Even more specific, Ed presses to make sure the Hendersons (Eric and Alicia) and Merriams (Tyler and Jill) know how they meant.

"We had so many conversations with those two families because they know what it was like to walk in our shoes," Ed shares. "They were so helpful to us and shared so many ideas of what worked for them, how to deal with the emotions of everything and became so important to us."

Aaron shares his joy with a unique perspective.

"I thought a lot about my faith in the last year and recognized that while I couldn't understand why I had to deal with this, God works in mysterious ways. This was his plan for some reason, for me to build endurance, develop my faith and fight.

``I think that a message to share with everyone, that no matter what, keep believing in yourself, and trusting in God and his plan."

Emotional moments for a pair of normally stoic Fiegen men, but perhaps, like most things, the story is best summed up by a mother's love.

"I call Aaron my miracle," Patti says with a smile. "We've seen him at the depth's despair, and now he's good to go. We're happy."

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