Against All Odds

Max Hardy does not remember falling.

“I remember arriving there,” Max recalls of his first visit to Black Rocks at Presque Isle in Marquette, on Saturday morning, August 28. “And the next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital over a week later.”

Starting his freshman year at Northern Michigan University only a few days earlier, the 18-year old wanted to impress his new friends. Exploring Presque Isle, the group hiked down the trail to Lake Superior, at the bottom of the Black Rocks cliff.

However, instead of taking the trail back to the top with the rest of the students, Max “decided to do it the fun way” by climbing straight up Black Rocks. He fell – 20 to 30 feet –his head striking the jagged cliff rocks before he landed face-down in Lake Superior.

Max’s friends pulled him unconscious from the lake, where it is estimated he was submerged for at least three minutes. EMS was summoned and Max was then transported to UP Health System – Marquette, where neurosurgeon Dr. Sonia Geschwindt was called upon to save his life.

Dr. Geschwindt, a board certified brain surgeon, joined the UPHS Medical Staff from in July. She was previously based at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

Max arrived at the UPHS – Marquette Level II trauma center unconscious and with water in his lungs. Dr. Geschwindt explains that the extent of his head injury was also a major concern.

“There was severe bruising of the brain,” says Dr. Geschwindt, who points out that swelling of the brain can occur similar to many other injuries to the body, increasing in the hours and days following the initial injury.

By Monday it became evident that brain surgery would be necessary.

Dr. Geschwindt performed a “decompressive craniectomy” procedure, which called for the left side Max’s skull being removed to allow brain swelling to expand without the brain being squeezed and damaged.

Says, Dr. Geschwindt, “The question was, how bad is the swelling going to get? We needed to accommodate the brain swelling.”

The surgery was a success, with the section of skull that was removed “frozen,” and then reattached during a second surgical procedure in October.

Max recovered from the second surgery at his home in Kewaskum, Wis. He plans to eventually return to college, and Dr. Geschwindt is pleased with Max’s recovery.

“I was concerned because the left side of the brain controls speech and comprehension of speech,” she says. “But he recovered his speech wonderfully. With the young you go all out because of their healing ability.”

Dr. Geschwindt concludes, “Given the speed he recovered and the severity of his accident, I believe Max must have had a guardian angel.”


For information about UP Health System - Marquette's Brain & Spine services, click here, or call (906) 225-4840.