Most of us curse gravity every time we add a candle to our birthday cake, but not Cody Seehafer. Cody, who recently celebrated his twenty-second birthday, says he owes gravity. It gave him back his life.
Cody was born with spina bifida and recently doctors discovered the cerebellum section of his brain was slumping down to the base of his skull. It was causing severe headaches accompanied by a loss of speech, balance, vision, hearing, and motor skills. He starting experiencing arm tremors, which caused him to fall, and he went from relying on form crutches to being in a wheelchair full-time. Various remedies and therapies were tried, including surgery to repair his tethered spinal cord. All to no avail. Finally, brain surgery was scheduled.
The extremely risky surgery at Gillette Children’s Hospital in Minnesota required the specialist to invert Cody on the surgical table and use gravity to slide his brain back into its correct position. A mesh plate was implanted to hold it in place. A secondary shunt was placed inside his brain which connects to the primary shunt he has carried his entire life.
During the eight-hour surgery, Cody also had several vertebrae fused together. Another half vertebra was taken out and replaced by titanium and a titanium plate was placed at the back of his skull. A titanium rod was also inserted to prevent the brain from slumping again.
Understandably, Cody’s family was anxious about the surgery, but they put their faith in God, family, and the doctors. June, Cody’s mother, said they pulled on their faith and let go. “Everybody was praying for Cody and that made the difference. You can feel that. It wasn’t just people we knew either, it was even friends of friends who heard about Cody.”
After several weeks in the hospital and intensive rehabilitation, Cody is doing remarkably well. ”I can move – I have full range of motion with my arms. If you didn’t know I was going through all this medical stuff, you wouldn’t know at all,” he said. His mom said he is nearly back to the old Cody. “It’s a total miracle.” “I am so thankful for the support we have received,” said his father, Phil. “That is the nice thing about living in a small community. The support makes a world of difference, and we are thankful for it.”
Cody said he wasn’t nervous at all. Perhaps he felt confident the tattoo he sports on his right shoulder trumped everything. The tattoo is a cross made with deer antlers that reads ‘Vaya con Dios’ or ‘Go with God’ in Spanish. Cody wanted a tattoo for a long time and thought hard about the design, but couldn’t pull the trigger. “I don’t know how I decided on this one,” he said, “But I absolutely love it.”
God is obviously important to Cody and the feeling appears to be mutual. Several years ago he was in a severe car accident in which the car rolled five times. Cody came away with just a few scratches.
Cody had learned to drive by taking the written test from the driver’s education class at MHS, but was required to take the driving portion of the class in Sioux Falls. Teachers in Milbank are not certified to teach handicapped drivers with modified vehicles. Cody’s truck was installed with a special kit. All the controls for the pedals were on the steering wheel as was an additional knob to help him turn. “You pushed the knob to the left to push on the gas and the other way for the brakes. It was tricky and took time to get used to.” Cody explained. He hasn’t driven in quite a while. “I need to get a lot better physically before I can think about driving again.”
Cody’s tattoo also reflects his love for the outdoors and hunting and fishing. He has a disabled hunting permit which allows him to shoot from a vehicle and to access hunting locations on a four-wheeler. “I have to follow all the other rules, though, and cannot shoot from a moving vehicle. There are times I don’t need to use the permit but it’s there when I do.”
Even with a special permit, Cody has a state-issued hunting license and is never guaranteed a buck tag. He also has a permit to hunt with a crossbow in South Dakota, but isn’t strong enough to use it now. Using it again is on his bucket list, though. Deer hunting is on that list, too. His last deer hunt was two years ago. And, it was a thrill! He shot the first buck of his life. “It was a beautiful 4 X 4,” he said.
Cody also enjoys playing basketball and was a member of a wheelchair team for almost two years in college. He explained the rules of wheelchair basketball are pretty much the same as the regular game, with a few changes. “The refs still call traveling violations. We are allowed two pushes of our chair with our hands and then we need to dribble.” He also remarked, “I never thought wheelchair basketball would be so rough. There were people bumping into each other and knocking each other over. It was really competitive. I am glad I had the opportunity to play and would like to join a community team again for fun.”
Eating is another of Cody’s favorite things, but a task that became difficult prior to his surgery. He was forced to eat most foods using small, baby bite-sized pieces. Eating one meal often took him 45 minutes or longer. He said he doesn’t have to be as careful now. “I am done with most meals in about 20 minutes.” He also said he doesn’t have a favorite food and insists he has always been on a see-food diet. “When I see food, I eat it.”
Cody recently went to his first checkup since his surgery and received good news. His weight restriction was increased from 10 pounds to 25 pounds and he can remove his neck brace for longer periods of time. “I only need to wear my brace when I am active.” His biggest achievement since the surgery is being able to get in and out of bed without assistance. “I was so weak before and needed help with pretty much everything. Now I have the freedom to take a nap whenever and wherever I want and don’t need help from anyone.”
Cody recently moved into his own apartment in Ortonville and is hooked up with Big Stone Therapies for his occupational therapy and physical therapy. For now, he will have a personal care assistant to help him until he gets stronger and is able to do everything on his own again. He is taking some time off from college at SMSU, but plans to return once he is strong enough.
He credits his uplifting demeanor to his strong faith in God, the support of his family, and the community. His father said Cody is able to find humor in many situations. “He even thought being upside down on the surgical table was funny.”
Cody added, ” I just keep praying and going one day at a time. It hasn’t been easy. It was tough to move to the wheelchair full- time, but it’s made me work harder and have more determination. I just work hard at having the best possible life I can.”