The heart is more often a metaphor than an organ in common speech. You might hear an angler say such things as “South Dakota is the heart of walleye culture” or “I love catching and eating walleyes with all of my heart.”
Todd Thesenvitz, an airline maintenance technician from Clark, South Dakota, got a chance to make such declarations a lot more literal.
On July 7, Todd was fishing near Clear Lake with his wife and daughter, trolling bottom bouncers with spinners, and doing quite well. They already had six walleyes and three nice perch in their Ranger boat. As they came over a patch of weeds, a northern pike of 8 to 10 pounds hit their worm harness rig.
“I set the hook on it and was trying to pull it out of the weeds, and it surfaced and bit the spinner off of the hook,” Todd told MeatEater. “So, he got loose. And when it did that, the bottom bouncer shot back towards the boat.”
Todd’s wife Marie was at the stern ready to net the northern. The weight, now detached from the fish, shot like an arrow between her and the outboard.
“I can see it like slow motion coming toward me,” Todd said. “I knew it was gonna like hit me or the boat and it hit me in the chest. And I thought it just hit me in the chest and fell on the floor. And next thing I know it’s stuck in my chest.”
A bottom bouncer is a trolling weight designed around a 90-degree-angled, heavy-wire spreader bar with one arm riding horizontally and pulling the leader with a swivel and the other arm pointing down with a lead weight formed around the middle. A sharp section of straight wire extends down from the lead, designed to tick along the bottom.
Todd told Marie and his daughter Keanna that this piece of wire was lodged just above his left nipple. They thought he was joking until he moved his hand and the wire stayed put.
“It didn't hurt at first. I told my daughter, who’s a nurse, ‘Just pull it out,’” Todd said. “She's like, ‘No, Dad, I'm not pulling her out. Let’s call 911.’ Good thing we didn’t because I come to find out if I pulled it out, I probably would have bled out within 30 minutes or less.”
“The one time she doesn't listen to me—I'm pretty grateful I guess.”
Marie and Keanna immediately took action. With Todd’s instructions, Marie got the Ulterra trolling motor stowed, pulled up the GPS map on their sonar unit, and began motoring toward the launch.
“She kind of kept the boat leveled out so I wasn't getting beat to death while I was trying to keep that thing stabilized,” Todd said. “My daughter got me sat down on the bottom of the boat so I didn't pass out or fall overboard or anything like that. Once I got to shore, man, once we pulled up there to the boat ramp, the whole parking lot was full of EMS, there was highway patrol; sheriff; game, fish, and parks; fire department; ambulance, and the people just went into action.”
Two emergency responders grabbed the gunwales and tied off the boat while another jumped in to help Todd get out. As he and Keanna took off in the ambulance, still more helpers backed his truck, trailered his boat, and even put the tarp cover over it. Later, the local pastor even filleted the nine fish in the livewell.
“It was pretty cool,” Todd said. “All these people, they want to just jump in and help.”
In the ambulance, emergency medical technicians cut the bottom bouncer just below the lead weight, clamped it with hemostats, and taped it in place. Todd could feel the wire moving with his heartbeat. They rushed him to a hospital in nearby Watertown, where a helicopter arrived for an airlift to Sioux Falls.
“When they did the initial CAT scan, every time my heart would beat, you could see this wire going in and out of my chest, you know, through the little hole in my heart. It was pretty amazing. The cardiologist, he's a fisherman, and he's like, ‘I can't believe it went between the ribs in your heart like that. It's just such a freak incident that I don't even know how it’s possible.’”
The bottom bouncer wire had pierced the pericardium and stuck in the left ventricle of Todd’s heart. By the time he was on the operating table, the pericardium sac around the heart was so full of blood that the heart could barely pump, dropping his blood pressure. The surgeon told Todd that he was almost dead before they performed surgery.
“Everything had to kind of line up just perfect because we had to drive to the boat landing and then all these EMS people were there from Clark County and the ambulance ride and then the helicopter ride to Sioux Falls. It was just a pretty crazy situation.”
The surgeon split Todd’s sternum, removed the wire, and put two stiches in his heart. They kept him intubated the following day, Thursday July 8, but he was up and walking by Friday and out of the hospital by Sunday. Doctors expect him to make a full recovery.
“It's just sore because they cut your sternum bone, split you apart basically,” Todd said. “People would come through the hospital, like nurses and other doctors and be like, ‘Are you the guy that had that...’ and I'm like, ‘yeah, I'm that guy.’ Most people here, either their parents or them fish, so most people knew what a bottom bouncer is and were amazed that it happened.”
Keanna saw the bottom bouncer in the sink at the emergency room where the ambulance crew put it, Todd said. “She’s like, ‘I'm taking that with the souvenirs. Dad's going to want that.’ She knew right away.”
Todd says he’ll be back to work and back on the water as soon as his doctor will let him, though he said he’ll probably put a bend in the wire tip of his bottom bouncers going forward. His rigs might snag more weeds, but that’s better than snagging vital organs.