MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - Like bookends on either end of the terrible summer day that Bryan Duffey lost his right leg, there was soccer.
And it turns out, even in the wake of a gas explosion at Minnehaha Academy that left his body shattered and two of his coworkers at the school dead, sometimes the best therapy is simply getting lost in a game.
An assistant coach for the school's soccer team, he's set a powerful example for his team by making it to every match--despite injuries that probably should have killed him.
"There’d be times where I wouldn’t take my meds," Duffey said. "I wouldn’t feel anything because I was there--and then instantly, when we went back to our car, I would feel the pain again."
The details from that August day are still fuzzy, with his last memory being the youth soccer game he coached the night before. Then, 10 days later, Duffey woke up in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury, his right leg amputated above the knee and his left leg broken in three places, a hole in his heart for secretary Ruth Berg and custodian John Carlson, two other employees at the school who died in the blast.
"John was amazing. He was happy all the time," he said. "I loved being around both of them.”
Contractors were moving a gas meter at the time of the explosion, which destroyed much of the upper campus and forced classes to the former site of Brown College in Mendota Heights until structural engineers determine that the school is safe--or, just as likely, that the school needs to be torn down and built anew.
Though even in the face of unspeakable tragedy, Brian--and the entire Minnehaha Academy family--still has something to look forward to with the birth of his first son in January.
It's a date he's eagerly preparing for, with a little help from the officers who saved his life.
In the moments following the explosion, Duffey was trapped under a a large concrete block as gas spewed from the nearby gas leak--and only escaped after a few Minneapolis police officers risked life and limb to clear debris and lift the unthinkably heavy concrete slab. All the while, residual flames crept ever closer, threatening to cause a secondary explosion that would surely kill everyone nearby.
"Honestly, it wasn’t even a decision," MPD officer Greg Kosch said. "I mean, you see somebody laying there and there’s rubble all over him and he’s trapped. There’s fire going there. You can’t leave him lay there. You have to go do something. So there’s no decision actually."
In those tense few moments, one officer chipped away at the slab while two others found the near-super human strength needed to lift it just enough to pull Duffey from underneath the rubble. It's something everyone who saw it will never forget.
"You look back at that [concrete slab] and just don’t know how you could ever do that," MPD Officer Dean Milner said. "I’ve seen it a couple times on the job, but I think God puts you where he wants you and gives you strength to do it."
Running into situations like that, first responders said, is all a part of the job--but that doesn't mean it wasn't a harrowing experience nonetheless.
"All I could think of is, 'Boy, I hope my kids understand why I did this.' I hope they understand, because I was ready to go," Milner said. "I thought it was our last day because I figured there would be a secondary explosion, and our concern was to get everyone else out of there. [Greg Kosch] and I weren’t leaving until we got Bryan out."
In the following days, those officers stayed in touch with Duffey and his family, visiting them in the hospital and taking Bryan out for an emotional lunch when he was well enough to leave.
"Then he looked at us and said, 'Guys, thanks for saving me.,'" Kosch said. "That’s kinda when all this hit home for me--to me I was just doing my job.”
Now, Duffey says he's most looking forward to standing on his legs again--and holding his newborn son.
In the meantime, Officers Milner and Kosch told Duffey that if he needed anything, they were there for him. As it turns out, there are quite a few baby preparations that the family needs help with, and both officers agreed to stop by and help out until the job is done.
Several community members are raising money to help Duffey with expenses, for more information click here.