DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- The Way of the Warrior boxing event in Alexandria on June 29 featured an emotional intermission. Inside a packed Broadway Ballroom, the ringside doctor was called into the ropes during the break.
Dr. Tim Lindley has been a fan of combat sports his entire life. When he was growing up he was a wrestler. His dad was the coach of the wrestling team. His interest expanded into other forms of fighting such as mixed martial arts. While he was working on-call as a neurosurgeon in Fargo in 2014, he got a page that he would never forget.
Dan Kiser was a rising fighter on the Minnesota MMA scene. The Milltown, Wis., native was the defending featherweight champion of Spartan MMA. His title defense against Frank Johnson would take place in Detroit Lakes on May 24, 2014.
Kiser’s last fight
Just 57 seconds into the first round, Johnson put Kiser in a rear-naked chokehold. Even though it’s a common MMA submission attempt, something went wrong. Johnson had collapsed Kiser’s trachea and caused his body to have two strokes. Not only was his career over in seconds, but his life was also on the line.
Lindley wasn’t hand-selected to be the doctor to try and save Kiser’s life. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“I was the guy on call that night. I remember it vividly,” Lindley said. “People are always surprised when I’m able to remember certain things. I’ve been a fan of combat sports my whole life. This one sticks out to me.”
Kiser was put in a coma for several weeks. He had an aneurysm and had lasting effects from the two strokes he suffered.
“They told me my chances of living were less than 10 percent,” Kiser said. “I don’t remember anything from that time. The last thing I remember is getting ready for the fight. After that, it’s when I woke up.”
With Kiser in a coma, Lindley was tasked with doing his least favorite part about his job – presenting an awful truth to the victim’s family.
“It’s hard to come up with what to say in those situations,” Lindley said. “You need to tell them that the chances of making it aren’t good, but let them know that there’s still a small chance. I’ve gotten better at it over the years. But I remember that decision for them was extremely difficult.”
Kiser’s family had a choice to make. The aneurysm that caused a second stroke had yet to be operated on. If Lindley were to go through with the surgery, the procedure could kill him. If the surgery was successful, Kiser would be paralyzed. If they chose not to go with the operation, the aneurysm would likely kill Kiser.
“I couldn’t imagine the kind of situation my wife was put in,” Kiser said. “She knows that I would be miserable for the rest of my life if I were paralyzed. It’s an impossible decision to make.”
Lindley was determined to provide as much information to Kiser’s family as they needed to make an informed decision.
“I called every neurosurgeon I knew around the country. I wanted to get every perspective I could’ve gotten,” Lindley said. “Obviously, we ended up making the right call.”
Lindley did not operate on Kiser. The aneurysm began to heal itself. After being unconscious for roughly two months, Kiser woke up.
“I remember the rehab was awful,” Kiser said. “The left side of my body was still affected by the stroke. But I can’t tell you how thankful I am for Dr. Lindley.”
Five years later, both men have moved on from the summer of 2014.
Lindley moved back to his hometown of Alexandria to work for Heartland Orthopedic Specialists. Kiser hung up his gloves and devoted his second chance at life to his family.
“I saw him two months after I worked on him,” Lindley said. “I could tell he was still out of it. The lights were on but nobody was home. I never thought I would see him again after that.”
Lindley’s love of fighting presented him with an opportunity to give back to the sport of boxing.
Corey Thompson, the Way of the Warrior fight promoter, asked Lindley to be the ringside doctor for his event at the Broadway Ballroom on June 29.
“I told myself that when an opportunity like this presents itself, I should take it,” Lindley said. “I think it’s good to get involved with the things you love. But didn't know what I was getting into that night.”
Thompson is a former fighter of his own. Back in his boxing days, he met Kiser and became friends with him. Now, Thompson works as a boxing trainer in Alexandria. Knowing the history of Kiser’s injury and who saved his life, he asked Kiser to make the trip to west-central Minnesota.
“I was planning on going with my family to UFC Minnesota in the cities that weekend,” Kiser said. “When Corey called I had to cancel plans. I couldn’t miss an opportunity to thank the man that saved my life.”
In the middle of the dimly lit ballroom stood Thompson with a microphone. He asked if Lindley would enter the ring for a special presentation. In the back of the ballroom were Kiser and his family.
“I was more nervous in that moment than I was for any fight I ever had,” Kiser said. “What do you say to the guy that saved your life?”
Thompson presented a video to the crowd explaining what happened to Kiser in May of 2014.
“I didn’t know why they were showing the video. I didn’t think anybody cared,” Lindley said. “I didn’t expect him to be there. To say I was surprised to see him and his family would be an understatement.”
Kiser and his family stepped in the ring in front of Lindley for the first time in nearly five years. In Kiser’s hand were the gloves from his first championship fight and the medal from his half marathon he ran after the accident.
“Both of those things mean so much to me and I wanted him to have them,” Kiser said. “The gloves from our first title fight are a big deal. Everybody keeps them. The medal from the half marathon was really important to me because I was able to run 13 miles while many people thought I would be stuck in a chair for the rest of my life.”
Kiser handed his gift over to Lindley and attempted to explain his gratitude in front of hundreds of boxing fans. Through his choked-up words, he finally got out the phrase -- “Thank you for saving my life.”
“It meant a lot to me, but the story isn’t about me,” Lindley said. “Dan is the real fighter here. I did one procedure. It’s almost routine for us. I get procedures that I stress about for weeks and I think about for weeks after. This one was much easier for us.”
Following the fight night, Lindley invited Kiser over to his house to spend the day with his family. The kids played in the pool while Kiser and Lindley finally got to know each other.
“He didn’t have to do that,” Kiser said. “My wife and I are so grateful we got to spend the day with him and his family.”
For Lindley, finding a bond with a former patient gave him a new perspective about his line of work.
“Meeting with Dan made me realize that even some of the smaller surgeries and procedures for me aren’t small to the people I’m operating on,” Lindley said. “Nothing is small in my line of work. I can drastically change someone’s life. That’s why I put so much pride in what I do.”
Kiser and his family returned to Wisconsin with memories that won’t soon be forgotten. Getting the chance to show his appreciation is something he’s wanted to do for a long time.
“I’m so thankful for that man and for Corey for setting this up,” Kiser said. “People told me how bad it was and how bad I looked. They tell me that it’s so much worse than I would ever imagine. I shouldn’t be here right now. And thanks to that man, I am.”