‘He’s Superman’ — Nordgaard overcomes injury
By Greg Bates
DE PERE – Joking around with teammates on the sideline, an occasional smile spread across Langdon Nordgaard’s face.
The West De Pere football team was up big on rival Ashwaubenon on Sept. 9, and Nordgaard was soaking up the feeling. Life was good.
But three months earlier Nordgaard didn’t know when he would be back on the field or if he would ever play football again.
A “freak” injury turned Nordgaard’s life upside down.
“It was just a lot to think about, so I tried not to think about it and just hope for the best and all the doctors would do the best they can,” Nordgaard said.
As Nordgaard reflects on his journey to get back on the football field, he feels fortunate.
He still remembers that day quite vividly.
It was June 13, the first contact day of the summer for the West De Pere football team. During the second practice of the day, Nordgaard — a junior wide receiver — went across the middle of the field on a crossing pattern and went up high for the football. A defensive back closed in on Nordgaard and then tried to get out of the way.
“I just went up and I was coming down and I think it was just the right spot where his elbow went right into my kidney,” Nordgaard said.
“It was kind of a freak thing,” said Langdon’s dad, Jeff Nordgaard. “He’s been hit harder many times and gets up and hands the ball to the ref. But this time it got him bad.”
Nordgaard stayed down. He wasn’t getting up. The pain on the right side of his body was excruciating.
Right away, Nordgaard knew the injury was pretty bad. He could feel it — literally and figuratively.
“At first, I had pain in my ribs and I thought it was just ribs,” Nordgaard said. “The trainer said it was probably a muscle spasm and then after that it was way worse.”
The on-site training staff assessed the injury and advised Nordgaard to head to urgent care.
“Initially, I thought when I saw the hit, I thought it’s maybe a rib, maybe knocked the air out of him,” said West De Pere coach Chris Greisen, who played quarterback in the NFL for six years. “But 15 minutes later after our trainer had gotten him up and he was on a golf cart all wrapped up in ice, I went to check on him and the trainer said, ‘He’s nauseous.’ So that tells me there was something internal.”
Jeff Nordgaard and his wife, Alexis, arrived at the field and brought their son to urgent care.
On the short trip, Nordgaard continued to be nauseous.
“We had like a 40-minute wait at urgent care and he started throwing up there,” Jeff Nordgaard said. “The woman that was waiting in front of us said, ‘He can go in my spot.’ Once the doctor got in to see him at urgent care, she was like, ‘Get him to an emergency room.’”
The Nordgaards drove to St. Vincent Hospital. The grim diagnosis: a kidney laceration.
“It wasn’t too long before they figured out he was in dire shape,” Jeff Nordgaard said. “He was in a lot, a lot of pain, but they scanned him and saw that they had to save his kidney.
More or less they were in a spot where they had to save his kidney and he had a lot of internal bleeding and different things going on.
They wanted to airlift him down to Children’s (Hospital), so that was the plan. But there were bad storms and tornadoes down in Milwaukee, so they had to get an ambulance.
“It was a situation where they told us if we kept him in Green Bay, the best we could do is remove his kidney. That would have meant no more (football), if he’s only got one (kidney). He can survive, but you can’t have a contact sport because if you hurt the other one you’re SOL.”
It took an hour and a half for the ambulance to arrive and then it was another hour and a half drive down to Children’s Hospital in Wauwatosa.
It was the worst pain Nordgaard had ever experienced.
From the time of the injury until that point in the day, Nordgaard had lost a lot of blood. His blood pressure was quite low. He received a blood transfusion on the ambulance ride down to Children’s Hospital.
Coach Greisen got an update on Nordgaard’s status.
“The first thing we just started praying that he’s going to live, you just don’t know how serious that is,” Greisen said. “The second of all that is ishe going to be able to keep his kidney, so he can continue being an athlete. That’s what his dreams are. I couldn’t imagine a high schooler having that taken away.”
Nordgaard, who was just one week shy of his 17th birthday, underwent numerous scans and tests.
It was Monday evening by this point and the medical staff decided to wait 12 hours to re-evaluate Nordgaard’s status.
“I don’t know if we have to go into surgery at that point,” Jeff Nordgaard said. “Things started to move in the right direction as far as that goes, but we were still uncertain how long, if ever, he’d be able to return.”
Nordgaard received positive news that his injury would not require surgery. His body should eventually heal on its own.
“They did tell us at one point that it was one or two millimeters away from being really tragic and there was really discomfort that whole week,” Jeff Nordgaard said.
Nordgaard received a second blood transfusion while at Children’s Hospital, but he was on the road to recovery.
Just five long days after being admitted to the hospital, Nordgaard was cleared to head home.
He was instructed to have zero activity of any kind. Any jostling or hits to his kidney could be a major setback.
An extremely active kid — he’s also on the Phantoms’ basketball team — Nordgaard wasn’t able to lift weights, run or play football. Life was pretty rough — and boring.
“It was a lot of Mindcraft and Netflix,” Jeff Nordgaard said.
A comfortable couch bed serving as his best friend, Nordgaard lost about 20-25 pounds during recovery.
With a monitor by his side, Nordgaard was watched closely by his parents.
“My mom would be sleeping and if I was in pain, she could hear me, she would come down right away,” Langdon said. “My parents were really good to me.”
In early August, Nordgaard returned to Children’s Hospital for an appointment with his doctor.
An ultrasound revealed that Nordgaard’ s body was healing as nicely as doctors had hoped.
“It was the best news we could possibly hear — cleared for contact,” Nordgaard said. “I could do everything and if anything happened, I had to take a little break. But it was great.”
Great news, indeed.
The doctor told Nordgaard he would like to see him back in six weeks for another check-up.
“I said, ‘How about five?’” Nordgaard’s dad asked the doctor. “He said, ‘Why? Do you have a big game?’ ‘Well, we play Ashwaubenon in five weeks.’ Actually the doctor is from Pulaski and he said, ‘Anything to beat Ashwaubenon.’ I said, ‘We play Pulaski the next week.’ He goes, ‘Alright, come see me in eight weeks.’ We ended up getting it in four weeks because they weren’t available in five.”
Nordgaard’s ultrasound on Sept. 1 came back great. He was cleared to return to the field for Friday nights.
Nordgaard attended football practice that night and suited up against Green Bay West on Sept. 2.
He played minimally — and wasn’t needed to play much as West De Pere was triumphant 77-0.
With a full week of practice under his belt, Nordgaard started against Ashwaubenon on Sept. 9.
He caught one pass for eight yards.
Nordgaard was just happy to be on the field.
West De Pere quarterback Duke Shovald was excited to get one his main targets back.
“He’s Superman,” Shovald said. “You don’t often see that, almost like the worst grade of a kidney laceration, and he comes back and he’s Lang. We didn’t get him the ball necessarily a lot tonight, but he’s another bullet in the holster.”
Added Greisen: “I went through an ACL and that’s hard, but when you’re talking about a lacerated kidney, an organ like that, it’s you’ve got to trust it and it’s so good to have him back out here. I know he probably wanted catches, but we’re going to get him going.”
Since being back on the field, Nordgaard hasn’t been gun-shy about catching passes and getting hit.
“I’ve been more active and hitting other people and not getting hit,” he said. “I feel like that was a problem. I was getting hit more and now I’m delivering the hits.”
Jeff Nordgaard knows exactly what it’s like to be a competitor and be in the heat of battle. He was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1996 and ended playing 14 seasons of professional basketball.
During his pro career, Nordgaard suffered a couple stress fractures, but no serious injuries. He couldn’t imagine the pain his son was in with a lacerated kidney.
“That was hard for us as parents watch,” he said.
No athlete ever wants to endure a horrific situation like Nordgaard dealt with. But looking back, it was a valuable life experience for him.
“It’s helped me a lot to overcome stuff better,” Nordgaardsaid. “There was a chance I would never be able to play football again, so thinking about that just made me want to push harder and get back into it and be the best football player I can be.”