The miracle of Max: Family, doctors hopeful after boy's remarkable recovery

- There is no fairness in what happened to Max. 

Seven months ago he was a fun loving four-year old with a penchant for climbing.

Then suddenly, one Friday in April, he was rushed by air ambulance to Regions Hospital in St. Paul with a massive head injury.

"He was helpless. I couldn't do anything, even being a registered nurse," said Kathy Piha, the boy's mother. "The first 24 hours they didn't know if he would make it alive or not."

Surgeons removed a section of Max's skull to relieve swelling on his brain, placing him on a ventilator and inducing a medical coma for a few weeks.

"I think Max is certainly a miracle,"  said Dr. Angela Sinner from Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare. "I have learned in this field that children surprise us at every corner."

Those surprises came slowly at first.

Max's brain injury was so severe, no one knew if he'd ever move again--but after 19 days at the hospital, a breakthrough.

When asked to count to three, he responded by lifting one of his fingers and moving the second. 

Seventy two hours later, another electrifying moment: He repeated the sound "ahh."

"Then we knew. He's there, we can move forward," Piha said. "There's something still alive in Max."

Not only alive, but finding a way to reach out.

At first, there were no words.

But when he heard music from his favorite singer, it was as if a switch flipped on inside his brain. He couldn't talk, but his mother said somehow he knew all the words to Justin Bieber songs.

For 45 days Max was fed through a tube in his nose--until another miracle came along, and he was able to use his left hand to eat.

WHAT HAPPENED?

"He didn't understand where he was," his mother said. "He had no idea he had an owie on his head and why he was there."

That question is now swirling through the court system.

When Max got hurt last April, he was at the house of Bryan Beseler in Dresser, Wis., about an hour's drive northeast of the Twin Cities metro area. He's the Village President, and was dating Max's mother.

Now, Beseler is facing two counts of physical abuse of a child as a result of the day's events.

According to the criminal complaint, Max was left in Beseler's care as Piha went to buy food for lunch. When she returned a half hour later, she found her son having a seizure.

According to investigators, Besler told them that he and Max were playing Nerf Guns. As they were chasing each other around the house, he said, when Max turned to look at him and ran into a door jamb.

A doctor who is an expert on child abuse cases told police that a young boy "hitting his head against a door frame during routine play would not be expected to cause such a severe injury."

Max's eight-year-old sister told detectives "she knew this day would come" because "Max was getting hurt all of the time and Beseler was hurting him," according to court records.

Beseler declined Fox 9's request for an interview and pled not guilty to the charges. He has a pre-trial hearing later this month.

In the meantime, he continues to serve in his duties at the Village President of Dresser.

"I just didn't ever think anybody would ever hurt my son, or anybody could do this to anybody," said Piha, claiming she didn't see any warning signs at the time.

SUPERHERO OF RECOVERY

Since his release from the hospital, Max goes to therapy at Gillette Children's Hospital three times a week, accomplishing things no one expected.

He's been called a superhero of recovery.

It helps to have a volunteer like Dave Kettering, and his therapy dog Sarah, to make the work fun.

"He's excelling beyond what we can sometimes predict," Sinner said. "So we just watch and see and support him as he continues to recover."

When Max first arrived at the hospital he was in a near vegetative state. Now, he's progressed to the point where he can attend school with his siblings.

Even still, he faces huge challenges.

His attention span darts like a butterfly, one of the hallmarks of a devastating brain injury. He also has very limited use of his right arm and leg, and it's unclear whether that side of his body will ever recover.

Some of his muscles are knotted from a lack of use, so Botox is used to help loosen them up.

Therapy will be a regular part of Max's life for months and possibly years to come.

"He knows he's different," his mother said. "So it's hard to watch him knowing he's not like everyone else."

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