BLUE EARTH - The past year has not been easy for Dr. Kevin Kimm, but it has been enlightening.
Kimm has been a medical professional for years, practicing family medicine at United Hospital District in Blue Earth since 2008. But he developed a new appreciation for what his patients go through after he fell ill April 12, 2012.
"I woke up in the wee hours of the morning to use the bathroom," Kimm said while seated in his Blue Earth home this week. "I had severe pain behind my right eye and pain on the right side [of the head]."
Dr. Kevin Kimm relaxes with his dog, Chloe, at his Blue Earth home. Kimm has spent the past year recovering from a brain bleed.
Kimm had not felt well for several months prior, and knew it was because "the platelets in my blood were really low," he said.
He knew he was in trouble and woke up his wife, Sandie, telling her he thought he was having a bleed in his brain.
"She asked, 'Do you want to go to the hospital?'" Kimm recalled.
He declined the trip, instead taking some Tylenol.
"If it gets worse, I'll wake you up," he promised her.
When Kimm awoke around 6:30 a.m., the pain was severe.
"She said, 'You're going to the emergency room.'
"I ended up in Fairview Hospital in the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis; life-flighted there," he said.
"A CT scan showed a huge subdural hematoma in the right side of the brain," Kimm said. "It was a bleed between the outer layer and the next layer.
"Usually, that's due to trauma, but I didn't have trauma," he said. "It was just due to low platelet count. Very serious."
After he saw the scans months later, Kimm realized his subdural hematoma was the largest he had ever seen. Usually with large hematomas he had seen, the patients died.
Kimm was rushed into surgery around 2 or 3 a.m. April 13.
"They had to save my life," he said simply. "Between my surgeon, my wife and the good Lord, I'm still alive."
Dr. Matthew Hunt talked to Sandie after the surgery, warning her it would be a long recovery. Kimm was comatose, on a ventilator, "tubes everywhere you can put a tube," but the worst were the monitors showing that his brain was seizing.
Then he developed pneumonia and intestinal infections.
"You can imagine the stress my wife was under," he said.
Especially after talking to the doctor.
"Dr. Hunt said to call the family, 'We're not sure that Kevin's gonna make it through this,'" Kimm said.
There were glimmers of hope: the brain seizures began declining. But the pressure in the ventricles was increasing, so surgeons put in a shunt from Kimm's brain to his abdominal cavity to relieve the pressure. They also put in a feeding tube.
Kimm's family was told if he did live, three things might happen: he could wake up and be in a vegetative state and need nursing home care; he could have seizures and die; or he could wake up and be fine.
The family decided to start weaning Kimm off his medications to see what happened.
"May 22, I did wake up and mutter a few words," Kimm said.
Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to a long-term care facility
"I was still in rough shape," he said. "A lot of [the long-term care facility] I don't remember.
"I do remember one thing," he said quietly, "I had a near-death experience.
"I saw a bright light," Kimm said. "I knew I was at the gates of heaven. I saw my mother [who died in 1986]; she's one of my great heroes in life.
"Mom was on the right side of the light; my dog Chloe was on the left side," Kimm said.
Chloe is Kimm's 6-year-old retriever.
"I started walking toward the light," Kimm said. "Mom said, 'Stop, Kevin, it's not time for you to come in yet. You have more work to do. Go back to practicing medicine.'"
Kimm paused before resuming his story.
"I've always believed in the Lord," he said. "It's definitely strengthened. Without the Lord, I wouldn't be here. I pray and thank God every day."
After a month, Kimm was transferred to Blue Earth and worked with the UHD therapy department.
A state champion athlete in his youth, Kimm is still physically active, but rehab was tough. He had to work incredibly hard on the basics, undergoing intensive speech, occupational and physical therapies.
"Finally, I could struggle down the parallel bars with leg braces on," he said.
He had gone as far as he could at UHD, but he wanted to try one more thing. He knew Mason City had a "very taxing, involved program, but I knew I could do it," he said. He was accepted into the program.
"Hardest physical thing I've ever done in my life," he said.
It was worth it, though.
"Dr. (Norma) McGuire said 'You've made remarkable progress, better than we thought. We think it's time for you to go home,'" Kimm said.
He did, in October, using a walker and wheelchair to get around.
He was then in outpatient therapy for about six weeks and made great progress, he said.
"My surgeon and neurologist were just blown away," Kimm said.
He continues to improve. He walks unassisted; his speech is normal. He stays busy by reading, exercising, playing with Chloe and doing household chores.
"Sandie's not sure she wants me to go back to work," he jokes, but that is his goal.
He will see his neurologist, Dr. Alireza Yarahmadi, in Mason City on Monday, and Dr. Hunt on June 3.
"Doctors say they see no reason why I can't go back to practice," he said.
The final decision will lie with the state medical board; he will meet with them in July.
"If they approve it, hopefully I'll be back shortly after that - late summer, early fall," he said. "The medical board at UHD has to approve me coming back."
He will come back having learned many things.
"I always thought I was compassionate and caring, but I'm going to be better," he vowed. "I know how hard it is to come back from devastating illness. I will never forget that."