Nelson County AD doing well after heart surgery

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal
Kevin Baumgarn holds his heart pillow while in his office.

LAKOTA - Kevin Baumgarn’s first “official” day back on the job on Aug. 16 primarily consisted of catching up on emails, juggling through mounds of paperwork and preparing for the upcoming school year at Lakota Public School. 

That, and clutching his heart pillow whenever he talked, sneezed, laughed or did anything else that put pressure on his chest. 

This, of course, came after the 50-year-old University of North Dakota alumnus suffered a heart attack during the North Dakota Shrine Bowl on June 19. 

Of course, Baumgarn did not think it was a heart attack at first. Although he felt dizzy, made a step to his right when the offensive line entrenched in front of him took a step to his left and eventually dropped to the ground, Baumgarn figured it to be heat-related. Once he regained consciousness, he was perplexed as to why fans were on the field when there was still a game to be played. 

Once he realized several nurses were within the 20-person circle, Baumgarn quickly did a double-take as he was transported to the hospital. 

Initial tests at Sanford Medical Center initially did not show anything of significance. After a re-run the following morning, however, two blockages were found. One blockage commonly termed the “widow-maker” was 80% blocked. Another artery down the left side, meanwhile, was 100% blocked. While a stent cleaned up the 80% blockage, the 100% blockage required an open-heart bypass performed on July 28. 

“They took the 100% blockage and bypassed it, took a vein out of my wrist and said to go home after five days of being in the hospital,” Baumgarn said from his office desk while grasping his pillow. “Rest, relax and try not to think about work and walk, work on breathing exercises and just hang out.” 

Although Baumgarn kept up with specific tasks via email or phone while at home, returning to the office was always the end goal. If anything else, it was to make it business as usual once more. 

That, and keeping sanity, too. 

“The nice thing was that it was good to be back at work instead of sitting at home looking at four walls…there is not much T.V. that is good on from about 10:00 a.m. to about 2:30-4:30 p.m. unless you are into ‘The Price Is Right’ and those type of shows,” Baumgarn said. 

Baumgarn’s return to the office, in his mind, is all about continuing to do what he loves: building relationships with the students he teaches, mentors or talks to in the hallway. With an expected roster size totaling out to 160-170 K-12 kids, the opportunity is there for the educator. 

“To me, it is just building relationships with kids,” Baumgarn said. “Even after all this happening, I have had a bunch of former students reach out to me on Facebook. Call me, text me and just…hey, we are thinking of you. We really enjoyed you as a sixth-grade teacher and…those were the best years…to me, it is all about the relationships with kids.” 

To Baumgarn, nothing about his job is average. Each day on the job brings a different challenge, even if it spans from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. From parent meetings to filling up the school busses with gas, Baumgarn relishes the opportunity to work in the profession he has done for many a year. 

From his recent surgery to his school’s adaptation to COVID-19, Baumgarn hopes to achieve a sense of normalcy as the academic year begins on Aug. 25. 

Even if curveballs continue to be thrown, Baumgarn will still cherish what he has. After all, to Baumgarn, it all roots back to one lesson in particular. 

Being thankful. 

“I am thankful," Baumgarn said. "I am thankful for all the friends and the family members that have reached out. When you go into a hospital and your phone is turned off and you turn it back on after four days…it keeps going ring, ring, ring and you have numerous missed calls and voicemails and a couple of hundred text messages.”