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March 5, 2019

Pastor Vern Returns to Work After Traumatic Brain Injury

By In the Loop

An offer to help a friend turned into a trip to the emergency department for Pastor Vern Christopherson, who has made a remarkable recovery thanks to prayer, community and a dedicated care team.

An offer to help a friend turned into a trip to the emergency department for Pastor Vern Christopherson, who has made a remarkable recovery thanks to prayer, community and a dedicated care team.


Sunday, Oct. 21, is a day Pastor Vern Christopherson will never forget — even though he doesn't remember much of it. There was rain in the forecast for Rochester, so Pastor Vern offered to help repair a leak in the roof of another pastor's home after morning services at Zumbro Lutheran Church. "I just thought, 'I'm a handy guy. I'll get up there and do what I can to help,'" he tells us.

After getting an extension ladder in place and stepping onto the roof, Pastor Vern successfully repaired the trouble spot. When he turned to come back down the ladder, something went terribly wrong. "I don't remember a thing about coming back down off the roof," Pastor Vern says. "The only thing I remember is waking up at Saint Marys Hospital."

What happened in between are details for which Pastor Vern has to rely on others. After falling from the roof, an ambulance rushed to the scene and delivered him to the Emergency Department at Saint Marys, where a team of medical professionals assessed his long list of injuries. "I had a broken right clavicle, some broken ribs, and injuries to my right eye, right ear and right arm," he tells us. "After a few days, it was clear I'd also suffered a traumatic brain injury."

The physical and mental state he was in was certainly not good for Pastor Vern or those who cared about him — including Ann Leland, a member of his congregation who also happens to be a member of the trauma, critical care, and general surgery team that took over his care at Mayo Clinic.

Because of their relationship, Leland was not a member of Pastor Vern's care team. But it didn't stop her from visiting him as a friend. When she did, what she saw frightened her. "It wasn't terribly clear he knew who I was," she says. "He certainly wasn't the same person, and that was hard for me to see," she tells us. "I was concerned he may not ever be able to get back to his job as a pastor. I started thinking I'd maybe see him back at church this spring as a visitor, but certainly never preaching again."

So imagine Leland's surprise when she and her husband showed up to Zumbro Lutheran one Sunday morning in early February and saw a familiar face in the sanctuary. "I couldn't believe it," Leland tells us of Pastor Vern's return to work just four short months after his accident. "It gave me chills to see him up there again."

It gave Pastor Vern chills to be back up there, too, and he tells us it's something that would not have happened as quickly as it did without "the power of prayer, the power of community," and the power of everyone at Mayo Clinic who helped make it happen. "I'm very grateful for all of the care and concern I've received, because I wasn't quite ready to retire just yet," he says.

Leland tells us she couldn't be happier for Pastor Vern, or prouder of her colleagues at Mayo Clinic for the way they cared for him. "That's just the way they work," she says. "They do this every day, and just knowing he was going to receive the level of care that he did gave me comfort and a lot of pride in my team."

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Tags: Ann Leland, Community, Emergency Department, Patient Stories, Trauma Center, Traumatic brain injury

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