FARGO – On Feb. 16, Broden Frolek walked up to an altar ambo at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Lidgerwood, N.D., from a pew where he’d been sitting, to thank family and friends for their steadfast support over the past months.
A Mass of Thanksgiving had just been offered to celebrate his recovery from a near-fatal accident. With a surprising steadiness and confidence, the young North Dakota State University student, 19, expressed his gratitude, calling his life “a living testament to the power of prayer.”
Watching, Mason Falk, 21, flashed back to that chilly day in late November when he and a few friends had come upon the scene of the single-car accident in North Dakota’s Sargent County; a still-unexplained crash that had left his closest cousin in a fetal position, with bones protruding from one of his legs, along with a broken rib and a traumatic brain injury.
“As soon as I brought my headlights to the highway, perpendicular to the slough, we saw the car, upside-down and facing the opposite way,” Falk says.
Immediately, he called Broden’s father, Aaron, who was part of a convoy of about 10 vehicles searching for his son.
Three hours earlier, Broden had left his parent’s home in rural Lidgerwood to watch an Ultimate Fighting Championship match on television with some friends. But his memory of that trip has been erased.
“I remember what I was doing earlier that day,” he says, “but I can’t remember stepping a foot into the vehicle.”
He woke up 11 days later, confused, at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo. Little by little, friends and family have helped fill in the known details. https://www.youtube.com/embed/mpO8Rktysbc
A cousin’s perspective
Though Falk was tired that evening, he says, his cousin’s disappearance woke him up. After spotting Broden’s overturned car in the black night, with the help of his car headlights, he got out of his vehicle, running through the icy water-filled slough to reach the car.
“The water was about knee-deep, and as I got closer, I stopped. I just froze. I was like, ‘Am I ready for what I’m about to see?’” Falk recalls.
Falk’s roommate, Devan Round, a nursing student, didn’t hesitate.
“He ran up to the car, and noticed a little water on the roof,” Falk recounts. “He got down on his hands and knees and checked, and said, ‘He’s not in there.’” He noticed a single shoe inside.
“It was a really cold night, and very windy,” Falk recounts. “You could only hear the cattails” moving in the wind. “Devan got on top of the car and started yelling.”
Suddenly, he heard a voice. “Just a little mumble.” He jumped off the car to investigate.
“Broden was north of the car about 10, 15 feet in a little spot, about 5 by 5 feet, on top of the ice, surrounded by the cattails,” Falk continues. “It was the only bare spot all around.”
They called 911, and Round began checking for injuries, noticing Broden’s bruised head.
“He wasn’t conscious, but he was speaking. It sounded to me like Latin,” Falk says.
“Broden, it’s Mason. We’re here,” he’d said. That’s when the words from Broden became clearer.
“He was praying the ‘Our Father,’ just little bits. So, I knelt down and started praying with him.”
Falk says he figured leg amputation was imminent. “We were also thinking hypothermia,” along with brain damage. “His lips were purple, almost pale, but he wasn’t even shivering.”
They later learned that, incredibly, there’d been no signs of hypothermia. “It was like God was watching over him the whole time.”
About 10 long minutes later, an ambulance arrived, and the waiting — and earnest praying — began.
A mother’s perspective
Tonia Frolek had a foreboding feeling the week of the crash, she says, and sensed it was connected to Broden, the oldest son of her 10 children.
That Nov. 28 night of his disappearance, she’d turned in early, exhausted from a long day of work at St. Gerard’s Community of Care nursing home in Hankinson, N.D., leaving her cares with Jesus and his mother, Mary.
Several hours later, she woke to her daughters’ panicked voices. Broden was missing. After calling Aaron, she gathered the rest of the kids and started praying.
The car rolled multiple times, landing about 200 feet from the road, Tonia says.
“They later saw a path where he must have tried crawling to.” The searching cars had passed by that dark stretch of road numerous times.
“I know by faith he was not there alone,” Tonia says through tears. “The fact that he was lying in the only dry area is a miracle in itself,” she adds, noting that with brain injuries, cold can minimize the damage.
“I just feel like God did everything perfectly for him to be able to recover like this.”
Throughout his recovery, Broden continued praying the “Our Father,” adding lines as his condition improved, prompting one nurse to ask Tonia, “Is he really religious?”
“No more than anyone, I guess,” she responded, chuckling.
But for over a week, her son remained in a comalike state, with extensive head trauma. In those moments, Tonia says, she felt powerless, except for the power of prayer.
When he “came to,” Broden says, he wanted answers.
“I told my speech therapist, ‘I’m mad, I’m frustrated. I can’t remember what happened.” When she asked if he really wanted to remember the accident, Broden paused, realizing the answer: No.
He soon learned of friends Falk had gathered in Fargo to pray, almost nightly, until Christmas break. “We have a lot of Lutheran friends, but by the end of it, everyone knew the Rosary,” Falk says. “Broden would do the same for any of us.”
At an invitation, Bishop John Folda even joined the students one night. A GoFundMe fundraising effort, and a healing Mass for his benefit back in Lidgerwood, also encouraged him, he says.
Broden’s faith began growing, too, with each uttered line of the “Our Father.”
“Before the accident, I was sometimes rude to my siblings. I was going to Mass on Sundays, but it wasn’t enough,” Broden says. “Now, I pray four or five times a day, and for other people, too.”
Life has changed, but not his aspirations. Broden wants to complete his degree in agricultural systems management and join the family’s farm business. For now, he says, he’s grateful for each day, and heartened by the responses of others.
Though he still can’t recall praying the night of the accident, Broden says it just came “automatically.” He’d been taught since childhood that “When you’re in trouble, pray, and God will keep you safe and healthy.’”
A pastor’s perspective
The Rev. Peter Anderl calls Broden “the real deal,” noting that his honesty and innocence make him especially receptive to God’s promptings. But he’s been equally impressed by how the accident has drawn others to God.
“During the healing Mass for Broden, people were holding onto every word with all of their hearts, minds and spirits,” he says. “When we finished, Broden (in Fargo) began to speak.”
“When two or three come together in Jesus’ name, amazing things happen,” Anderl says. “People have come back to church who hadn’t been for decades. They’ve said, ‘This inspired me to want to deepen my faith.’”
Anderl says the Church teaches that Jesus comes to us through four means: the holy sacrifice of the Mass; the consecrated priest; Scripture; and gatherings of the faithful. All four merged the evening of Dec. 2.
“As soon as we began to pray, I knew Broden would be fully healed,” Anderl says, noting that additional graces have followed, including perpetual Adoration at St. Boniface, allowing people to “pray directly in front of the Lord in the Eucharist” 24/7.
He’s also watched the family draw even closer to God, “spending countless hours with their son, pleading, begging for healing,” he says. And Broden has “never wavered.”
“He’s a great kid, without guile — the kind a mom and dad would want their daughter to marry.”
Anderl concludes, “The more we pray, the more we receive, and how life-changing it is.”
A long road of recovery lies ahead, Tonia says, with therapy continuing twice weekly. But daily, she’s reminded her son could have died.
“I always tell the kids, ‘Life is precious, so don’t be wasteful with it. Take care of your life and what God has given you.’”
Falk says he knew Broden wouldn’t give up. “But seeing him from that night to where he’s at now — it blows my mind.”
“The progress so far gives us all hope he’ll be back up here (at NDSU) in the fall, and we’ll see Broden smiling again,” he adds. “We’re already seeing him smiling; he’s always laughing and making everyone feel better.”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Feb. 26, 2021.]
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