UND’s Windfeldt survives scare
GRAND FORKS — Ross Windfeldt is spending University of North Dakota spring drills battling for playing time as the backup right tackle. This one is easy compared to the health battle he went through last fall.
The UND offensive lineman is back at Memorial Stadium now, about eight months after a scary bout of bacterial meningitis required an airlift from Grand Forks to Minneapolis. There, he spent almost a month at Fairview Hospital on the campus of the University of Minnesota. It wiped out his entire sophomore season.
“It was more of a relief (to rejoin the team),” said Windfeldt, a St. Cloud, Minn., native. “This is a lot better than doing what I was doing. I got to get back to the guys who were there for me every day.”
One of the main teammates there for Windfeldt was fellow offensive lineman Brandon Anderson, who, Windfeldt said, called him in the hospital every day for more than three weeks.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can be life-threatening because of the swelling near dangerous areas.
“We were all worried about him and concerned,” said Anderson, a Sartell, Minn., native. “I was just the voice of the group and kept the team filled in. He’s a good friend. I know he’d do the same for me.”
The trouble started at the beginning of August when Windfeldt started to feel some strange symptoms. He thought he had a fever or a concussion. To battle the pain, he wore sunglasses inside one morning.
On Aug. 19, he had to be rushed to Altru Hospital, a trip he doesn’t remember taking. He had a fever of 104 degrees and had trouble staying conscious.
Windfeldt wasn’t at Altru long. He was airlifted via jet to Fairview, where he spent more than three weeks.
“It caught us off guard,” Anderson said. “It went real serious real fast. Scared was an emotion a lot of guys were having, especially the offensive linemen because we’re such a close group.”
The team wasn’t able to talk with Windfeldt for a few days. The university was also limited in its ability to pass along information due to illness privacy laws, Anderson said.
“It really helped when we were able to talk with him,” Anderson said.
After leaving Fairview, Windfeldt spent another month recovering at his mother’s home in Wayzata, Minn.
“I did more medication stuff at home until I was physically able to come back to school,” Windfeldt said.
Windfeldt’s season was over. He didn’t travel with the team and was in street clothes at home games. His first appearance back at the Alerus Center was an emotional one. He addressed the team prior to a game.
“He told us to play every play like it’s our last,” Anderson said. “You never know when it’s the end ... embrace the opportunity to play for guys like him who can’t.
“There weren’t a lot of dry eyes. He’s a great, lovable guy. It hurt to see him hurting.”
Windfeldt said his teammates and coaches were crucial in his return.
“Brandon called almost every day and that kept me going through,” Windfeldt said. “The old staff checked up every day, too. That was a big deal to me and kept me in good spirits.”
Windfeldt’s family was also at the hospital routinely.
“It was hard on my family,” Windfeldt said. “But I guess that’s what family is for. They were always there.”
On return to Grand Forks, Windfeldt quickly regained his prior form. He recovered his conditioning, his weight and his muscle. This spring, the 6-foot-6, 296-pounder broke his personal weightlifting records.
Windfeldt’s teammates are happy to have him back in the mix.
“It’s great to see him back,” Anderson said. “It’s like he never skipped a beat. It’s like it was back to early fall camp. Everything’s right again.”