After successful surgery, Ali Nowotny hoping to be released by Christmas
Dusty Nowotny fights back tears Saturday as he watches his little sister in bed in the intensive care unit at St. Marys Hospital at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Ali spent the night in the ICU and will likely spend Saturday night there, as well. Dusty arrived Friday evening from Vermillion. (Photo by Kristina Barker, Journal staff)

ROCHESTER, Minn. - On Saturday morning, Ali Nowotny sits propped up in her hospital bed, her eyes determinedly focused on the wall across the room.

Her face is swollen now, her lips slightly puffy. A bandage is wrapped tightly around her head, covering the incision where the neurosurgeon removed a brain tumor on Friday.

(Editor's note: This is the final story in a series from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., about Rapid City teenager Ali Nowotny. The Rapid City Journal followed Ali and her family to Mayo as she underwent brain surgery to remove a tumor. The Journal will continue to check in with Ali as her recovery progresses.)

Her father, Craig Nowotny, stands to her right, her brother, Dusty, to her left. Ali's eyes turn briefly toward Dusty. She gives him a small resigned smile and turns her gaze back to the wall.

Dusty, head down and quiet, rubs his hand lightly up and down his sister's forearm. When Ali first saw her brother Friday night after her surgery, her only words to him were, "I love you."

The intensive care nurse instructs Craig Nowotny to talk to Ali to see if she will answer. "Ali, can you say something?" he asks.

Without looking at her dad and after a long minute, Ali clearly says, "Hi." Then, after a pause, "It hurts."

Her father answers gently, "Yeah, I imagine." He rubs her arm. "Hang in there. There are a lot of people here for you."

Three hours later, Craig is eating lunch when he gets a call to come back to the intensive care unit. When he gets back, he finds Ali sitting in a chair, talking and sipping on a glass of water. She accepts an offer of some soup from a nurse and asks her dad to cover her legs.

"She's taken a turn for the better," Craig said. "She's talking. She's not gabbing a lot, but she's talking."

His voice, for the first time in days, sounds relieved.

Ali's first night after her brain surgery didn't go exactly as hoped.

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Between 9 p.m. and midnight, she stopped responding to the nurse's questions and directions. The frustration showed on her face, says her aunt, Rhonda Hanson of Huron, who spent the night in Ali's hospital room.

"She just couldn't find the words. … There was not a lot of clarity," Hanson said.

A neurologist ordered a CT scan at 2:49 a.m. to make sure Ali's brain wasn't bleeding. The results came back normal, which indicated that Ali's confusion may have been caused by a seizure.

Ali's doctor, Nicholas Wetjen, had warned the family that Ali might suffer a post-operative seizure, which would be normal and no indication of problems to come. Wetjen also warned Ali that she would be groggy and in pain for the first two days after surgery and that it would take two weeks before she felt like herself again.

Ali stayed in St. Marys intensive care unit Saturday night and was expected to be moved to a regular hospital room today. It's too soon to say how long she will remain in the hospital, but Wetjen said if all goes well, she could be out by Christmas.

Craig, Dusty and Ali hope to spend Christmas and the holidays in White Lake, where Craig and his late wife, Bette - Ali's mom - grew up. The entire family will be there this year.

Those plans seemed a long way off on Saturday morning, but Ali's sudden and substantial improvement on Saturday afternoon made them feel more possible with each hour.

In Ali's hospital room, Craig draped a fleece blanket over a chair. He had the blanket made especially for her. It shows Ali and her dance and cheer teammates winning the state Class A Team Dance Championship in November. A look of fierce determination is etched on Ali's face in each image.

The family is counting on that same steely determination to get Ali through the coming days.

Contact Lynn Taylor Rick at 394-8414 or lynn.taylorrick@rapidcityjournal.com

Title: Ali's Journey

Date: December 16th, 2008

Follow Ali Nowotny's journey as she travels to Minnesota to undergo brain surgery to remove a brain tumor.


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