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Wadena native picked for Courage Award

Photo by Lester Hughes-Seamans Dr. Jim Krause and his wife, Laura, celebrated 40 years after he survived an accident on Otter Tail Lake. Krause, a Wadena native currently on the faculty of Medical University of South Carolina, received the 2011 Medtronic National Courage Award. He is a spinal cord injury researcher, who is himself living with a C4-5 spinal cord injury.

More than 40 years ago, he was a self-described mediocre C-student who had no plans for college at all. Then on July 21, 1971, an accident changed his life and his hometown of Wadena rallied around him. Now, Dr. James Krause is the recipient of the Medtronic National Courage Award for his research in health and longevity following a spinal cord injury.

The award puts Krause in a league with past recipients including Stephen Hawking, Bob Dole, Ed Roberts, Judith Heumann, Janet Reno, Joni Eareckson Tada, Max Cleland and Christopher Reeve.

On Sept. 24, he will get the award and give his acceptance speech. According to the Courage Center press release, the ceremony will be held at the Earle Browne Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center during the annual Celebration of Courage.

"It's an incredible award, and it's very humbling," Krause said, adding that he is the first recipient to have done medical or rehabilitation research.

"I lived at Courage Center. I was aware of it when they started giving the award, and the people who were receiving it," he said. "It's going to be very special to go and receive that award and spend a day at Courage Center again."

Krause said his research works toward identifying factors that relate to poor health, secondary health conditions and mortality after spinal cord injury.

"The whole focus of our research is to help people that do have spinal cord injuries so that they can stay healthy, so they can work, and so they can live as full and long of a life as possible," he said. "There are still probably 250,000 people with spinal cord injury in the United States right now. They have a lot of health problems, their employment rates are about 30 percent, and people die early, and a lot of that's unnecessary."

The Courage Award is presented annually by the Courage Center and the Medtronic Foundation.

"It's a national award, and the individual who receives it has some disabling condition typically, or is someone that has done a great deal for people with disabilities," he said.

When he was 16 years old, Krause was swimming in the Otter Tail River when he dove and hit his head on the bottom. He fractured his spinal column, which resulted in a C4-C5 injury which paralyzed him from the shoulders down except for a little bit of movement in his right arm.

Krause was at the Perham hospital for a short time, then was transferred to St. Luke's Hospital in Fargo, where he stayed until after Christmas. Afterward, he was transferred to Gillette Hospital in St. Paul for several more months.

"For a long time it was very memorable in Wadena," Krause said. "The town rallied behind me. It was an incredible force in my life."

Krause said the "Jim, We Care" campaign raised $10,000, which was a lot in the early 1970s.

The town did other things - caroling, basketball events, and six of the Minnesota Vikings arrived in February 1972 when Krause was visiting home.

"The Vikings at the time used to do traveling basketball games during the off season, where they would do it for charity, and they did one at the Wadena gymnasium," Krause said. "I remember five of the Vikings came to the house - one of them could not. The person who had put on these games was a guy named Karl Kassulke."

Kassulke himself later had a spinal cord injury after a motorcycle wreck in 1973.

Krause said that the Sister Kinney Institute in Minneapolis was a turning point. He received rehabilitation services, and psychological testing said that he could do better. He wanted to go into research and help others because he had been helped.

Krause never got to finish high school -- he has a GED -- but went on to an academic career.

Krause said he had initially applied to Southwest State University in Marshall, as it was known as the most accessible school in the country, but was turned down for too many physical needs.

"I was looking at that letter today," he said. "I'm going to throw that letter in the trash. I've kept it all these years."

He went to the University of Minnesota instead, taking classes beginning in 1974. For living arrangements, he started at a nursing home, then went to the Courage residence where he met a lot of lifelong friends.

Krause graduated in 1980 and got his Ph.D. in 1990.

He used to be a psychologist, then switched to research on health and longevity.

Krause now lives in South Carolina with his wife Laura.

"She's the one that's had to make a lot of sacrifices so that I could pursue my career. She actually put her career aside when we moved to Charleston in 2002," he said.

Krause is a professor and associate dean for research at the Medical College of South Carolina, but maintains ties to Wadena. He visits every year, and his mother, brothers and other relatives still live in the area.

"I was actually there two days before the tornado hit, and we flew out of Minneapolis the day before the tornado, and we actually were in Wadena on the anniversary of the tornado this year," he said.

They fish for a week or two at Otter Tail and get Nite Owl pizza.

One brother, Dave, is a pharmacist at the hospital, and another brother, Chuck, works at the nursing home. His grandfather started Krause Drug, and his father, who passed away in 2008, worked there his whole adult life.

"We used to live [at] 605 Irving," he said. "Our old house was very close to where the tornado went through."

He said he has a lifelong gratitude for all the people of Wadena did for him.

"There is no way I would be where I am right now without everything they did, because it was inspiring to me," he said. "I always wanted the people in Wadena to look back and to see that what they did - what I did with my life - reflected what they did for me."

With his family, his town and his state behind him, he pushed himself to succeed and reward the people who believed in him.

According to the Courage Center press release, a three-year inpatient stay there was common during the 1970s and 1980s. Today, the average length of stay for someone with a spinal cord injury is 99 days.