DULUTH — Dr. Fahd Arafat of Rainy River Medical Center understands the power of positive thinking, lessons he applied in his conversation with Father Ben Hadrich on Aug. 8, 2015.
"The doctor came in with a picture of my brain and said I was having a stroke," Hadrich said. "I remember just asking, 'Am I going to die?' And he said, 'No, you'll be just fine.' I was kind of peaceful at that point."
The rest of Hadrich's journey was anything but, including being read his last rites by a fellow priest, but he survived the massive stroke to return leading a remarkable life.
Hadrich, 33, ran Grandma's Marathon for the 17th time Saturday, finishing in 3 hours, 50 minutes, 38 seconds, taking 90 seconds off his time from last year. He went into Saturday with the attitude, perspective and sense of humor one might expect from someone who has survived a harrowing ordeal.
"I hope it's my 17th Grandma's," he said in a phone interview Friday.
Hadrich, a 2002 McGregor High School graduate, attended St. Scholastica from 2002 to 2006, running cross country for four seasons and track for one. He was ordained into the priesthood of Jesus Christ on June 22, 2012, calling it the greatest gift of his life.
Hadrich has lived in International Falls for about three years, serving at St. Thomas Catholic Church.
Hadrich competed in the Backus Rainy Lake Triathlon on Aug. 8, 2015, finishing second despite experiencing a headache that only got worse. He returned home and took a nap for a couple hours, thinking that might do the trick. It didn't, and at that point he couldn't talk well, so he drove the mile to Rainy River Medical Center to get checked out, going right to the emergency room and pointing to his head.
The good shepherd was solely concerned for his flock, wanting to do his "job" that evening.
"After a race like that, I was kind of going all out and felt a little dizzy, so I didn't think too much of it at first," Hadrich said. "But it just got worse and worse. I told them I needed medicine because I had Mass in a couple hours. It was a bizarre afternoon compared to the morning."
Hadrich eventually connected with Bishop Paul Sirba, who found a priest to head to International Falls to celebrate Mass that night.
Hadrich thought he'd be back on the job the next morning, but after undergoing a battery of tests, he was immediately flown by helicopter to the Cloquet airport because there was bad weather in Duluth. That was the last time he remembered being awake. He was taken by ambulance to St. Luke's hospital, where he had emergency brain surgery to reduce pressure in his skull due to internal bleeding.
"I remember being in the helicopter and thinking, 'This is taking forever,' " Hadrich said. "So I knew it was a longer ride than it should have been from International Falls to Duluth. I just couldn't talk and had a really bad headache, but they were doing the best that they could."
According to his parents, Hadrich said the surgery only took about two hours, but he was in a drug induced coma for about 60 hours after having 66 staples put into his skull.
Hadrich was in intensive care for about five days, then spent seven more days at St. Luke's followed by 28 days at Miller-Dwan Foundation. Despite all that, he was never really afraid.
"For me, I was kind of in and out of it most of the time and thought everything was fine, but for everyone else, I'm sure it was hellish," Hadrich said. "I was in this beautiful room. It was quiet, there were doctors, family members and priests all there, then after a couple days I realized I wasn't in the presidential suite."
Hadrich had suffered brain damage and had to go through occupational, speech and physical therapy, relearning things as simple as what a tractor is. Some of the therapy continues to this day.
"Most people have no clue I had a stroke like that, but some of my good friends and family members can tell," Hadrich said. "Some of that takes years to get back to 100 percent."
It wasn't long before Hadrich started exercising again and even won the Backus Rainy Lake Triathlon last August. The humble Hadrich downplayed it, saying the guy who beat him the previous year wasn't there. Needless to say, he has provided an inspiration in church.
"I joked when I went to church that night," Hadrich said. "I said last year I had the same race in the morning, and then I had a vacation for several weeks. And today, I had a great race, but I'm going back to work. In my mind, it really jelled our parish."
Hadrich said the experience helped reinforce and strengthen his faith in God and in the power of people.
"I'd say it's a miracle," Hadrich said. "I give thanks to God first, then the doctors and nurses and all the people we have today, as well as all the people who prayed, that led to an unbelievable result.
"When I came back to work in the Falls that same doctor was there, and it must have been a couple months since I had last seen him. He just looked at me and gave me a hug and said, 'I can't believe you're alive.' And I said, 'Yeah, I am.' "