Young hunter recovers after being shot in eye

2013-12-09T16:40:00Z Young hunter recovers after being shot in eyeBy BRIAN GEHRING | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

Kaelan Macdonald and his family spent the past three weeks, including Thanksgiving, in a St. Paul, Minn., hospital after he was shot in the eye while pheasant hunting.

The good news is the 14-year-old boy from Bismarck will be home to celebrate Christmas and his 15th birthday Sunday.

At a news conference Monday, Kaelan, his father, Russell, and doctors at United Hospital recounted the events of the accident and surgery that likely saved his life.

Russell Macdonald said he and he his son were deer hunting with two others Nov. 14 on their family farm  about 20 miles southeast of Bismarck.

He said the deer hunting was slow that Sunday so the group decided to walk a slough where they had seen some pheasants earlier in the day.

When they reached the slough, Kaelan and one of his friends walked the edge to the other side and Macdonald and a family friend went through the middle.

When a rooster flushed, the friend fired with Kaelan 80 yards directly down range.

Fear hit Russell Macdonald immediately, he said. "I looked over and I didn't see Kaelan at all."

When he got to his son, he was down, hands covering his face. Russell Macdonald said he could see a wound where one pellet from the 12-gauge, five shot shell had hit his son in the left cheek.

There was a slight trickle of blood but it wasn't until Kaelan pulled his hands away that his father saw the left eye, swollen nearly shut and black and blue.

"I can't even explain the feeling of helplessness," he said during a phone interview following Monday's news conference.

He said his son was nonchalant about it, telling him he wanted to finish the walk.

At first, Kaelan said he felt fine, not thinking much about until his dad told him he'd been shot.

"I didn't want to believe it," Kaelan said.

After taking him to Sanford Health in Bismarck, Russell Macdonald said it wasn't until about 6 that evening when they realized the seriousness of the injury.

He said his son awoke in ICU from what appeared to be deep sleep for a CT scan and he had trouble speaking and moving his arm and leg on his right side.

Russell Macdonald said it was his wife, Rebecca, who realized something was seriously wrong and was able to relay the problems Kaelan was having to medical staff.

Kaelan said at the time he was aware of his surroundings but couldn't tell the medical staff. A wrestler and football player at Bismarck High, he said so many thoughts raced through his mind.

"I kept thinking what it would be like if I couldn't walk or even talk to my family."

Russell Macdonald said it was then the magnitude of his son's situation hit hard for him and his wife.

"I have never felt fear like that before," he said.

Kaelan was transferred to St. Paul where he was treated by a team of doctors including Eric Nussbaum, a neurosurgeon at United Hospital's John Nasseff Neuroscience Institute and Patrick Graupman, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Gillette Children's Hospital.

Nussbaum said initially there was some confusion because they were not sure where the shotgun pellet entered the eye because there was no tissue damage.

X-rays and angiograms determined the pellet, which likely entered through the tear duct, bounced around some before hitting the carotid artery.

"It was a very challenging situation," Nussbaum said. "You can't open up a textbook and find out what to do."

What they found was the pellet entered the carotid artery but did not pass through it, instead becoming lodged in the artery itself cutting off blood flow to the brain.

Nussbaum said there wasn't a lot of internal bleeding in the brain and the brain tissue itself wasn't damaged.

But the lack of blood to that side of the brain was causing the speech and loss of feeling problems, and there was a real risk of Kaelan suffering a massive stroke.

During a six-hour procedure, doctors did what is known as a brain bypass, taking an artery from beneath Kaelan's scalp and bypassing the area in the carotid artery around the pellet which still remains in his brain.

Officials from United Hospital say Nussbaum, who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of brain aneurysms and vascular malformations, is probably one of a handful of neurosurgeons in the country experienced in that type of surgery, having performed more than 2,000 procedures to repair brain aneurysms.

Nussbaum said the blood vessels in the brain are tiny, a fraction of a millimeter in diameter. The suture to do the bypass was smaller in diameter than a human hair, he said.

Kaelan was released from the hospital Friday and plans were to drive home following the news conference, his father said.

The prognosis is positive.

Aside from some double vision and blurred vision when he looks to his left, Kaelan said he feels fine and he's ready to get home and sleep in his own bed.

Doctors told him his brain will "wall off" the area in the artery where the pellet is lodged as it heals.

"I will be forever grateful to all of the doctors, nurses and everyone," he said. "I'm kind of sick of this ... but it's all going to be good."

It might take awhile, Kaelan said, to determine if there is any damage to his eye that might require additional treatment.

For now though, it's an eye patch and giving up wrestling and snowboarding.

Russell Macdonald said the swell of support from friends and family back home has been phenomenal, including his employees who have picked up the slack to run his contracting businesses since the accident.

"I can't say enough .... everyone has been incredible," he said.

But there is guilt. Admittedly, Russell Macdonald said they didn't follow safe hunting rules — and it cost his son dearly.

"We didn't communicate ... we didn't follow the rules." They were wearing blaze orange but no protective eye ware.

He said one of the biggest things is thinking something like this couldn't happen to them.

He said he plans on sharing his story with others when it comes to proper hunting safety and how, in an instant, things can go wrong.

But in this case, he said he's thankful to the doctors and perhaps some divine intervention that his son's story did not have a tragic ending.

"We really feel grateful and blessed," Russell Macdonald said.

"I really think we saw a miracle that day."

Reach reporter Brian Gehring 250-8254 or

Copyright 2015 Bismarck Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.