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Riding the Waves of Life - Michael von Dorpowski


Jan, 2019

Physicians: Christian Sikorski, MD

During the summer months, if 20-year-old Michael von Dorpowski wasn’t at work or school you could likely find him on the shores of Lake Michigan surfing with his friends. It was a sport he had picked up within the last few years – and at the time he couldn’t imagine it would nearly cost him his life.

One afternoon while catching some waves, Michael fell off his board into the blue waters below. While he doesn’t remember hitting his head, when he came out of the water his friends noticed he was acting funny and slurring his words a bit. There wasn’t any blood or a noticeable cut, so Michael didn’t think anything of it. In fact, he drove himself home later that evening.

It wasn’t until he got in the shower and the water felt like needles on his skull that he became alarmed. He called his parents and by the time they arrived from their bedroom he was vomiting. Shortly after he became unconscious and his mom, Rebecca, a nurse at Lakeland’s Heart Center, immediately called an ambulance. Michael was taken to the emergency department at Lakeland Medical Center in St. Joseph.

At the hospital, a series of tests revealed a small brain bleed. As the doctors continued to monitor him, the brain bleed increased. Michael was unable to breath on his own, was intubated, and sent to the operating room for emergency surgery. Neurosurgeon, Christian Sikorski, MD, performed surgery to stop the bleeding and removed half of Michael’s skull to accommodate the brain swelling. Michael remained in a medically induced coma for two weeks to allow the swelling on his brain to decrease.

“Once I regained consciousness the first thing I remember was Dr. Sikorski’s relaxed persona throughout the entire process,” said Michael. “He had a calming effect on me. I knew I was in good hands and didn’t have anything to worry about.”

Two weeks after the initial procedure, Michael underwent a second surgery to reattach the portion of his skull which had been removed. He spent a total of 23 days in the hospital.

“I don’t think I really understood the magnitude of the situation at the time,” he said. “I was confident in my doctors and nurses. I had a lot of really good people taking care of me. Everyone was so supportive and I am very thankful for that.” 

After being discharged from the hospital, Michael was transferred to Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in Chicago where he underwent a week of intensive rehabilitation therapy. After returning home, Michael also completed three and a half weeks of occupational, physical, and speech therapy with Lakeland Rehabilitation.

“By the time I left the hospital I was up and walking again,” said Michael. “My therapy focused a lot on improving my cognitive skills as well as my hand eye coordination. I never feared my accident would alter my ability to still do the things I loved.”

Four months after the initial accident Michael’s life is nearly back to normal. He returned to work as a delivery driver for Pizza Hut and is looking forward to starting a new semester of classes at Andrews University. He also plans to get back on his surfboard next summer.

“We are so lucky to have a neurosurgeon as skilled as Dr. Sikorski right here in southwest Michigan,” said Michael. “I would recommend him to anyone.”


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