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Lucky to be alive: Event takes aim at brain injuries

It’s summer of 2011 and life is good for a typical suburban couple with a 2-year-old daughter and two dogs.

But one July night wasn’t so typical for Holly and Nick Pechman. The two woke up to Holly, 32 at the time, in severe pain before she passed out from what turned out to be a spontaneous stroke – no previous health problems, no warning signs.

Holly was fortunate to get medical help quickly enough before things got even worse. She survived and continues to gain her memory back almost three years later.

The Pechmans are partnering with “Birdies 4 Brains,” a metro area organization that helps individuals and families overcome traumatic brain injuries, to host a fundraiser and awareness event Saturday, June 14, at Carmine’s Restaurant in Woodbury.


The Pechmans, who live in Rosemount and have family in Woodbury, were awoken at 2 a.m. to Holly screaming “my head, my head,” as she struggled to find words to explain how she was feeling.

“In 10 minutes she went from sleeping in bed, to stroke, to unconscious,” Nick Pechman recalled. “Within a minute of her loading in the ambulance, she stopped breathing.”

Nick didn’t have time to be sad, he said, as he quickly gathered all medication his wife could’ve possibly taken and made sure to grab a photo of their daughter before heading out the door.

Emergency responders took Holly to a nearby hospital. Nick had to wait in a separate waiting room from other families.

“Right away I had that feeling: Why are they isolating me from the other waiting rooms?” he wondered.

Doctors came and told him his wife was in critical condition and not breathing on her own.

“Do you want a priest or someone?” a woman from the hospital asked him.

“That’s where it got real,” he said, his voice shaking, eyes tearing up.

Holly was then transferred to the University of Minnesota Medical Center-Fairview to undergo brain surgery to relieve the bleeding and pressure on her brain.

The stroke affected a part of the brain that was inoperable and doctors could only drill a hole to help get the extra blood out.

That 20-minute procedure felt like a lifetime for Nick. And then more worrisome news came when doctors told him they’d have to wait for the bleeding to stop on its own in the next day.

“They were either going to come back and say she’s alive or they were going to come back and say they couldn’t do anything,” he said. “If the bleeding doesn’t stop, there is nothing we can do.

“So then it was just the worst.”

Fortunately the bleeding stopped, though Holly couldn’t remember much after she woke up and had trouble speaking.

The Pechmans never lost hope. It was about a year before she gained her memory back, she had to learn to write with her left hand because she lost function of her right and she has a little trouble finding certain words.

“She never felt sorry for herself,” Nick said, adding that the recovery has been a slow process but they’ve seen major improvements.

“Now I feel great,” Holly said.

‘Lucky she’s alive’

According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the No. 4 cause of death in the country with 40 percent occurring in men and 60 percent in women.

A stroke, which is a disease of the blood vessels of the brain that leads to brain damage, affects one in five women, according to the American Stroke Association.

Because it was so sudden and unexpected for the Pechman family, they were inspired to work with various groups to raise $10,000 at the local event at Carmines and ultimately go up to $100,000 after a 100-hole golf challenge at White Eagle Golf Course in Hudson, Wis., Monday June 16.

The Pechmans established a fund for the Neurological Intensive Care Unit at the University of Minnesota Medical Center-Fairview “to put the money to good work for the next people that go through something like this to make their chances of survival better and the experience of their families better,” Nick said.

Other benefiting organizations are: Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance that help with post-hospital care and resources for victims and families, The Lone Survivor Foundation, providing therapy for wounded service members and CentraCare Health Neurology Services, a St. Cloud unit that saved a member of Birdies4Brains.

Nick and Holly said they’re appreciative of all the help they’ve received following Holly’s stroke and working with groups like Birdies4Brain struck a chord with them.

“A lot of people that go through a brain hemorrhage like this don’t survive,” Nick said. “Unless there is someone right there, if you’re in the car or sleeping or don’t live with anybody else, a lot of people die because they don’t respond quickly enough.”

“We’re so lucky that she’s alive.”

The Carmine’s fundraising event will kick off at 6 p.m. Saturday, June 14. An auction and raffle items are planned. Entry donations are $15 per individual or $25 per couple ahead of time and $20 per individual or $30 per couple at the door. Those interested in donating or would like more information can contact Nick Pechman at

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.