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A changed life: Injury was a blessing in disguise, Jake Kranz says

Having his knee ruined may have just been the best thing to happen to Jake Kranz.

He had been the captain of the football team at Hastings High School and could have played Division I or Division II college football if he had wanted to leave Minnesota.

Instead, he decided to go to St. Cloud State University after graduating from HHS in 2006. The first year on the team there he was ineligible to play - a common practice for first-year players, called redshirting. The second year, it only took three games for him to oust two seniors and nab the starting quarterback position.

With two minutes left in his first starting game in September of 2007, Kranz took the ball and ran. The field was clear in front of him and there was no one anywhere in his field of vision. And then he was hit. He remembers feeling a sharp pain in his knee and then everything went black. He fell to the ground and lost the ball.

"It felt as if my leg was literally severed in half," he said.

He was done for the game, and by the time he got into the locker room to meet with the team physician, he knew he was done for the season. The physician figured he had torn a single ligament at first. An MRI done a few days later showed he had torn two. The physician wanted to do the surgery in multiple segments.

"That didn't sit very well with me or my parents," Kranz said.

They called the Mayo Clinic, and although the clinic is in high demand, they were able to get in for an appointment. The x-ray they got showed just how serious the injury really was. Three of the four major ligaments were torn, as were a couple tendons and his biceps femoris muscle (hamstring) where it attaches to one of the ligaments. He had also suffered a partial fracture of his femur.

Kranz didn't know it at the time, he said, but the doctor's biggest concern was simply giving him back the function of his leg. There was little left holding the lower half of his leg on, and there was a 50 percent chance they would have to resort to amputation.

It took almost seven hours in surgery, but Mayo's Dr. Michael Stuart was able to repair the knee. During the week in the hospital after the surgery, Kranz started to realize the significance of the injury. Athletics could no longer be his top priority.

After the injury, he knew that school wasn't going to be an option while he recovered, so he withdrew for the semester. By January of 2008, he was still on crutches, and he still didn't feel ready to go back, so he took a second semester off while trying to focus on his knee. Later that spring he did move back to St. Cloud and started helping out the football team however he could. Immediately, he said, he felt out of place.

"I felt like a ghost in the background," he said.

Not long after, he realized that St. Cloud was farther from home than he preferred to be, especially if he wasn't playing sports.

"I realized that I kind of needed to make a change," he said.

Six months after his surgery, he was accepted to the University of St. Thomas. It was a new start, and he still figured he could play football later.

The turning point

In the summer of 2008, another incident pushed Kranz further.

He and his father, Marty, were working out the yard one day, when Kranz heard the machine his father was using suddenly stop. When he went over to find out what was going on, he found his father sitting down, pale, with his head in his hands. He complained of feeling a tightness in his chest.

"I knew that something was wrong," Kranz said.

He suspected his father was having a heart attack, so he got him in the car and drove him to Regina Hospital. On the way, his father did, in fact, experience a heart attack. Kranz said he remembers driving to the hospital with one hand holding his father in his seat.

"That truly was the most frightening moment of my life," he said.

From Regina, Marty Kranz was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, and for two minutes in the ambulance, his heart did stop beating.

Doctors at Regions were able to revive him, but that changed Kranz's outlook more than anything else he had experienced.

"Since that day, my life has really changed," he said.

The biggest difference was finding Christ, he said.

"I had always had a relationship with Christ, but following that incident, I realized that I needed to take a closer look at how I was prioritizing my life. I needed to make Christ my number one priority."

Last try at football

By the fall of 2008, school was going well, and his rehab had progressed to the point where he could start running again. The following spring he talked to the football coach at St. Thomas about playing, and soon he was back with a team, at least in training.

"I was a step behind, obviously, but I was participating," Kranz said.

The first field practice came along and Kranz ran a few drills and a few plays, and toward the end of the evening had the opportunity to run a few more, but instead decided to send in a freshman instead.

"Walking off the field, I just started smiling," he said. "I realized I was done playing football and I was okay with that."

It was definitely a spiritual moment, Kranz said. The very next day he talked to his coach and told him that he just didn't have the heart to play football anymore.

There were a few moments after that when he wondered if he had made the right choice, but those moments were brief.

"I knew I would be content with my decision, and I am completely grateful today with where God has taken me," he said.

Changing tracks

The series of events Kranz has experienced since his own injury has led him to a career track that allows him to reach out to and help others.

After Dr. Stuart repaired his knee, Kranz realized that working in health care was something he really wanted. Two months after surgery, he took a Certified Nursing Assistant course

"I was still on crutches, so I knew it was going to be difficult," he said.

After completing the class, he worked for a month at Augustana. It would have lasted longer, but while lifting a resident, his felt his knee twist. He didn't want to risk undoing the work that had been done, so decided to stop.

In the spring of 2010, he transferred schools once again, this time to the University of Minnesota, where he is now studying health and wellness, with a minor in marketing.

"My ultimate goal since my surgery has been to work alongside physicians," he said.

He's pulling from his experiences in the recruiting process in football, using his interpersonal skills together with his passion for health. He's aiming to use his degree to work in medical sales, but is ready for anything.

"Whatever God has designed for me, I'll meet it head-on with enthusiasm," he said.

Since attending the University of Minnesota, Kranz has also gotten involved in Young Life College, a Christian organization that helps bring kids together who lead busy lives but still want to have a relationship with Christ. After one year in the college program, Kranz became a Young Life co-leader, and just last fall started serving as a leader in the Young Life Capernaum, which provides Christian-based activities for kids who have disabilities.

Sports haven't completely left Kranz's life. This year he started coaching ninth-grade boys basketball at Bloomington-Jefferson High School.

"That is a way I can still be involved in athletics," he said.

A fresh outlook

It would have been easy to look at his injury negatively. It ruined his career as an athlete, but Kranz doesn't look at it that way.

"Basically, the injury and my dad's incident has been a blessing in disguise," he said.

"I've been so fortunate that God has given me the ability to look at is as a blessing, rather than a negative experience."