By SUE WEBBER
A motorcycle accident on June 12, 2016, almost took Bruce Nolte’s life.
But his spirit, coupled with his wife’s persistent determination, kept him alive and led to a miraculous recovery.
He was riding his Honda with four other people outside River Falls, Wisconsin, when the accident occurred. After 51 years and 800,000 miles of riding motorcycles, it was Nolte’s first and only accident.
“No one knows what happened,” Nolte said. “I went off the road into the ditch, flew up in the air and landed on my head and shoulder. The bike flew over the top of me.” Wearing a helmet and jacket and traveling 60 mph, Nolte’s only outward sign of injury was a bruise on the bottom of his chin, he said.
Nolte was taken to the hospital in River Falls to be stabilized until his wife, Sandy, arrived. Then he was transferred to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.
A CT scan the next day showed a broken neck and back, and Nolte underwent surgery on June 14. He didn’t wake up for the next 42 days.
“It’s quite a story,” Nolte said. “Every day, the doctors told Sandy I would die that day. During that time I had total kidney failure, my lungs quit, I had two pulmonary embolisms, double pneumonia, multiple seizures and acute respiratory distress.”
He notes that his heart never quit, and that he always had brain function, however.
“During that whole time, my wife was my advocate,” Nolte said. “She is the one who kept the doctors from writing me off. I remember her perfume. Every day, she laid beside me and talked to me. This is a story of the true love of my wife. She was my anchor to this world. She gave me the willpower to come back.”
He credits the first EMTs on the scene and the subsequent nurses and doctors with doing the right thing. “All my motorcycle friends stood by me and supported my wife,” he said.
After his second surgery July 6, Nolte was on dialysis and required two nurses 24/7 to care for him. “Every day there was something worse than the day before,” he said.
“Since then, both my kidney doctor and my asthma doctors have said independently that there’s no reason I should be alive,” Nolte said.
In addition to his wife’s presence, daughter Sarah and Nolte’s sister Barb “lived my pain,” Nolte said.
A significant memory from the long hospitalization was God’s voice talking to him, Nolte said.
“Think of all the nice voices you’ve ever heard combined, the most calming voice you’ve ever heard,” he said. “The voice said, ‘Bruce, you have a decision to make. Do you want to live, or do you want to die? I will help you.’
“Why was I given that choice?” he said. “I must have decided to live. I was never afraid of death. And now it’s not something I ever worry about any more. I know how great it’s going to be.”
Eventually, Nolte was moved to Regency Hospital in Golden Valley for a month and then to Ambassador Care Center in New Hope for another six weeks to complete his rehabilitation. Two 18-inch rods with pins are holding his back together now, Bruce said.
After growing up on a farm in southern Minnesota, Nolte graduated from Bloomington Kennedy High School. He worked as a head custodian in Robbinsdale District 281 schools for 35 years; the last 20 before retirement he worked at Armstrong High School.
Now, a year after the accident, Nolte walks three miles a day, drives, plays golf and considers himself fully recovered. He isn’t able to ride a motorcycle again, Nolte said.
“With my wife’s faith and God’s grace, here I am,” he said. “I’ve learned to rid myself of the stuff I cannot control. Why worry about it? It’s so much easier to live by giving my problems to God, knowing that He will take care of them for me.”
SANDY NOLTE’S STORY
Bruce Nolte’s wife, Sandy, who retired in 2004 from a 38-year career as a secretary in Robbinsdale District 281 schools, said the unknown was the worst part of her four-month vigil after her husband’s accident.
“We thought the back and neck repair would take six to eight weeks,” she said. “We didn’t know then about the coma. It was one thing after another. The doctors kept telling me Bruce was dying.”
She credits the “excellent” Intensive Care Unit staff and the fifth-floor trauma team at North Memorial.
“We got a lot of help from great doctors and from God,” she said.
Sandy recalls tears streaming down her face as she told the doctors, “You have to fix him. He’s only 67 years old. I know he’s in there. His heart is good. I’m not giving up.”
As hospital personnel were offering to help her select a funeral home, Sandy said, she was pleading them to “give him every single chance there is, to do whatever you need to do.”
“I was like a zombie,” she said. “Seeing him dying really got to me. It was like a horrid roller coaster.”
On the day Bruce finally emerged from his long coma, Sandy said, “I was saying to him, ‘Bruce, I know you’re in there. Follow my eyes.’” When Bruce suddenly opened his eyes, she said, “I gave him a kiss, and then I screamed for the doctor.”
Bruce completed his therapy at the end of December and still does his exercises faithfully, Sandy said. “He really works at it,” she said.
In March 2017, nine months after the accident, the Noltes celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on a cruise in the Panama Canal. The trip had been planned well before Bruce’s accident, though they’d considered canceling it in December.
Sandy believes “tons of prayers” helped Bruce survive. “He was blessed,” she said. “A lot of wonderful people came and were supportive and kind.”
Now that the traumatic ordeal is behind them, Sandy has some words of advice for other families who might face a medical emergency with a loved one. “Please understand you need to go by your gut feeling,” she said. “If you have any inkling [that the patient could still recover], go with it. You have to push. Give that person every chance there is. Talk to them. Touch them. I wouldn’t quit. Please don’t quit on your people.”