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South Dakota man lucky to be alive after unfathomable fishing accident nearly broke his heart

When the fish broke free, the tension of the rod released and sent the bouncer through his skin, in between his ribs and into his heart.

Todd Thesenvitz holding a walleye he caught the day before the fishing accident. (Submitted photo)

CLARK, S.D. -- The disbelief is still evident in Todd Thesenvitz’s voice.

How could the wire from a bottom bouncer … how in the world did it get lodged in his heart? How did a great day on the water turn into a life-threatening situation?

The 53-year-old Thesenvitz -- who lives inside the South Dakota border near Jasper, Minnesota -- will be asking those questions his entire life. Next week, he’ll visit the doctors who helped save his life following what’s undoubtedly one of the most unusual fishing accidents of all time.

“Every time my heart would beat,” Thesenvitz recalled, “I could feel this bottom bouncer move in and out of my chest. It would move just a little bit with each beat of my heart.”

Describing a bottom bouncer to a non-angler isn’t simple. Imagine a thin wire bent at about 90 degrees with a lead weight on one side to keep the fishing line down and a swivel on the other end to tie hooks and spinners. The rig is attached to the rod halfway between the weight and the hooks.


The original Meter Bottom Bouncer. Photo courtesy Meter family

The technique was working for Thesenvitz on July 7 on Indian Springs Lake near Clark, South Dakota. Enjoying the morning on the water with his wife, Marie, and daughter, Keanna, the group had six walleyes and three perch in the livewell when chaos ensued.

“We went along this weed edge and I hooked up with this northern,” he said.

Marie was in the back of the boat ready with the net. The fish broke the surface of the water, shook its head and snapped the line.

“All of a sudden, I could see that bottom bouncer, I could see it in really slow motion,” he said. “It just took off heading toward the boat like sometimes it does. I could see it was headed right toward me.”

Extending from the weight-end of the rig was a 6-inch piece of wire. When the fish broke free, the tension of the rod released and sent that end of bouncer through his skin, in between his ribs and into his heart.

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“That hurt a little bit,” he thought. Then he looked down, and saw it protruding from his chest. Thesenvitz has been fishing pretty much his entire life. He’s never seen -- never heard -- of this happening. Marie and Keanna thought he was joking, until they saw his hands by his side not holding the rig.

“Bottom bouncers, lures, they fly around, no matter how careful you are -- things happen,” Marie said. “We spend the summer on the water. I couldn’t fathom how this happened, and it’s still hard to.”

Luckily a nurse was on board. Keanna, who works at Avera in Sioux Falls, pleaded with her father not to pull the wire out and immediately called 911.

“She was a rockstar,” Thesenvitz said of his daughter’s calm demeanor.

Marie reeled up all the lines and took the captain’s seat in the boat, an unfamiliar location for her in the watercraft. Thesenvitz told her to follow the same GPS navigation line from the depth finder that the group took out to get back to the dock.

The pain on the ride back was excruciating, and Thesenvitz’s screams sounded with each bounce of the boat. His face was losing color. When they arrived at the landing, there were more emergency lights than a person could count.

Todd Thesenvitz after surgery. (Submitted photo)


Thesenvitz got out of the boat, onto the dock, placed on a gurney and into an ambulance. He was headed to Watertown. He arrived at about 12:30 p.m., about 1 hour and 15 minutes after he figured the bouncer entered his chest.

“They had a whole trauma team ready,” he said.

But it was decided the best route would be surgery in Sioux Falls, considering the wire indeed was in his left atrium and was filling the area around his heart with blood. Heart surgery was a must.

Another ride in an emergency medical carrier -- this time a helicopter -- got him to the operating table. His sternum was broken open, the wire freed and he was sewn up, good as new.

Had surgery waited 10 to 20 minutes longer, his doctors suggest he may have died.

The location of Todd Thesenvitz's surgery on his chest. (Submitted photo)

“It was like the talk of the whole hospital,” he said. “People who fish would come by and ask, ‘Are you the guy? Yeah, I’m the guy.’”

The support the family has received from all over has been overwhelming, Marie said.

“It kind of restores your faith in mankind that people do care,” she said. “People that fish, it was a lot easier for them to relate to it. But it’s just bizarre. How can this happen?”

Thesenvitz, who kept the bottom bouncer as a sort-of memento, was discharged from the hospital on July 11. He returns for his follow-up appointment on Wednesday, July 28.

If the doctor clears him that day, he’s ready to get back in the boat. And as far as fishing with bottom bouncers again, sure, he’ll do it.

“The chances of it happening again are probably slim to none,” he said, “but for my piece of mind, I’ll put a small bend on the tip of it.”

Luke Hagen was promoted to editor of the Mitchell Republic in 2014. He has worked for the newspaper since 2008 and has covered sports, outdoors, education, features and breaking news. He can be reached at lhagen@mitchellrepublic.com.
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