Hospitalized former Minnesota State player improving, still in dire condition

Isaac Kolstad played linebacker at Minnesota State for three seasons and graduated in December 2013.

Courtesy University of Minnesota State-Mankato Athletics/Courtesy University of Minnesota-Mankato Athletics

With strides come setbacks.

Isaac Kolstad, the man allegedly beaten by former Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson and another suspect, is improving in miniscule increments, his family has said via a series of online posts. But just hours after a noticeable step in the right direction, the 24-year-old former Minnesota State linebacker remains in dire condition.

Tuesday, Kolstad responded to a neurosurgeon’s request to give him a thumbs up — his first instance of responding to a verbal command. But later that night, according to Kolstad’s Caring Bridge page maintained by his family, he was diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) as a result of being bedridden since shortly after the alleged May 11 attack.

"We ask for you to pray and keep thinking of Isaac," brother-in-law Mike Fleming wrote on the Caring Bridge site late Tuesday. "He has come such a long way with your help and support, we won’t let this hurdle get in the way!"

Indeed, Kolstad’s condition has improved since the early morning of May 11 in downtown Mankato.

That’s when St. Peter, Minn., resident Trevor Shelly allegedly punched him and Nelson purportedly kicked Kolstad in the head as he lay unconscious. Kolstad has been in a coma since then — for the first two weeks, it was medically induced — and requires heavy doses of pain and relaxant medications. Early on, doctors ruled he suffered permanent brain damage.

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When his medications wear off, Kolstad is in visible pain, according to his father’s account on Caring Bridge. He moans, sometimes thrashes about in his Mankato Mayo Clinic Health System bed. His blood pressure rises rapidly, his breathing becomes a struggle, and he sweats profusely and often has fevers.

"It is a dance, a battle at times, to help Isaac right now," Blaine Kolstad, Isaac’s father, wrote in a Monday entry. "Waiting and watching from the bedside, you wish you could do more, you wish you could do something to take away that pain."

But while still mostly unconscious, Isaac Kolstad has been able to move parts of the left side of his body, open his eyes to loud voices and respond to localized stimuli — i.e. when a doctor rubs his chest, he’ll reach out and push the physician’s hand away. He’s begun pulling at his tubes and the sheets and pillows around him, too.

Tuesday, per Fleming, a neurosurgeon asked him to squeeze the doctor’s hand. Kolstad tried, but his fingers barely moved. So the physician yelled at him to give him a thumbs up.

"There went that left thumb straight up in the air!" wrote Fleming, the brother of Kolstad’s wife. Kolstad also has a 3-year-old daughter and another child on the way.

But the DVT presents a new threat. According to the Mayo Clinic website, such a clot can become dislodged and travel through the bloodstream to a person’s lungs and block blood flow, technically referred to as a pulmonary embolism.

Kolstad played linebacker at Minnesota State for three seasons and graduated in December 2013. The Mankato East alum transferred to his home city after spending his first two collegiate campaigns at North Dakota State, including a redshirt year in 2008.

Nelson and Shelley, meanwhile, have been charged with first- and third-degree felony assault. Nelson, a Mankato West graduate who saw time at quarterback for Minnesota each of the past two seasons, was dismissed from the Rutgers football team after transferring there this offseason.

According to Twin Cities television station KARE 11, about 700 people attended a Sunday fundraiser at Minnesota State and donated more than $13,000 to help with Kolstad’s rising medical costs. Monday, Mankato’s two Buffalo Wild Wings locations donated 15 percent of all food and beverage proceeds from 5 p.m.-9 p.m. toward the cause.

"We can’t help but know that the gathering of people, thoughts, and constant prayers have kept Isaac strong and have assisted him in his recovery," Fleming wrote Tuesday. "It seems after the benefits that have occurred, Isaac has made the most improvement."

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