After brain surgery, central Minnesota classmates collaborate for academic success
ALEXANDRIA, Minn.—During their time at Alexandria Technical and Community College, Jordan Henrichs of Evansville and Tyson Meissner of Brandon did everything together — quite literally, as Henrichs served as Meissner's personal care assistant.
When Meissner was 17, he had what is known as a cavernous malformation — a cluster of blood vessels — near his brain. After undergoing surgery to remove it, he began experiencing balance and sight issues, as well as tremors.
Though Henrichs and Meissner had grown up knowing of each other and playing sports together, they were never close friends. But after Meissner's surgery, Henrichs ran into him at the Douglas County Fair in 2013.
"I'd seen that his dad was pushing him in the wheelchair, saw him sitting there, and thought, 'I'm kind of mean,' because I hadn't talked to him," Henrichs recalled. "I had heard his friends kind of weren't always there for him anymore and he was alone a lot."
Henrichs approached Meissner and asked if he'd like to go goose hunting a few weeks later. Meissner agreed, and the rest, as they say, is history.
"When we went goose hunting, he shot a goose by himself," Henrichs said. "Then I was like, 'Let's go duck hunting, let's go fishing, let's go to WeFest.'"
During that time, Henrichs had tried attending ATCC, but struggled to keep his grades up. Meissner had been taking general courses but wasn't sure what he wanted to focus on.
Eventually, the two decided to enroll in the same program, business management. Both graduated from the college last month, in a ceremony where their story of friendship was shared with the audience.
During college, Henrichs would help Meissner with classes, often taking notes and assisting him with writing for assignments.
College, Meissner says, was a bit of an adjustment but was made easier with Henrichs along.
"It was just a learning curve, to get to know everyone and the teachers and material, of course," Meissner said. "Before I went to school I was kind of quiet, but after school I love to talk to people. It brought me out of my shell."
Though Henrichs had passed some of the classes during his first time at ATCC, he chose to retake the courses with Meissner.
"The hardest thing for me was doing everything twice, but it was awesome too because I really learned unbelievably better than I could have learned if I had done it by myself," Henrichs said.
business management instructor Bob Defries had Henrichs and Meissner in class and says their friendship and work ethic made an impression.
"They're great friends; they just complement each other so well," he said. "They both impress the heck out of me. I never, ever heard Tyson complain about not being able to do something. He just went for it, and Jordan was always there to help him."
Defries often let the two work on assignments and tests together, knowing that they would each come to their own conclusions.
"Tyson would insist this is Tyson's work and Jordan is just helping put that work into words," Defries said. "That was never an issue. There was a line between what Tyson's work was and what Jordan's work was."
According to Kris Daby, a business management instructor, the academic benefit of their friendship was evident.
"I think in their own way, they both really got each other motivated and did it together," Daby said. "One might think Jordan was Tyson's care assistant, but I think it helped for Jordan, too. I knew him pre-Tyson and he's really changed a lot."
While Meissner typically uses a wheelchair, he can walk if assisted. Henrichs often assists him, having Meissner lean on him for support. Sometimes, the two say, this can draw attention. Meissner says he finds comfort in knowing Henrichs is by his side.
"If people did say something, I don't know what I would say back," Meissner said. "It's good to have Jordan there to be my bodyguard I guess."
Henrichs says while he knows people are just trying to comprehend what is going on, all that is needed is a quick smile.
"All you've gotta do is crack a smile," he said. "Crack a smile and everything is good."