BUTTE — The early morning hours of December 23, 2022, were some of the longest — and most terrifying — of Mick Paffhausen's life.
The husband and new father was at Barrett Hospital & HealthCare in Dillon. There his wife, the Seeley-Swan graduate and former Montana Western basketball player Paige Paffhuasen (née Holmes), was succumbing to a life-threatening infection that had developed along her C-section incision through which their daughter, Parker, had been delivered just a week earlier.
The infection was coursing through her body, and antibiotics weren't stopping the spread. Not even a day earlier, this scene would have been unfathomable to Mick.
"Paige went from that morning having pancakes and bacon, having a good time loving on her baby to 12 hours later she was basically in a coma," he said.
Mick didn't mince words when describing just how perilous the situation was.
"We were literally watching her die in front of us is what it felt like," he said. "And that's simply what it was. It spiraled that fast."
A significant amount of infected tissue needed to quickly be surgically removed — a procedure a small-town hospital simply isn't equipped to handle — and so a Life Flight to Salt Lake City was ordered.
For Mick, the wait for that plane was agonizing.
"It was the worst night of my life," he said. "And it was the worst night of not only my life but my parents' life, Paige's parents' lives. It was absolutely terrifying. Waiting for a Life Flight for six, seven hours and being absolutely helpless. That's about the worst feeling in the world."
After what certainly felt like an eternity, the plane arrived and whisked them to the University of Utah Hospital where a team of surgeons, nurses and physician assistants spent the next several days extracting tissue that had turned poisonous.
"You know it was just surgery after surgery after surgery for those first few days," Mick said. "Cleaning it out and cleaning it out."
Eventually, after progressing to stable condition, Paige was transferred from the ICU to the hospital's burn unit to begin the arduous process of rebuilding what the infection had destroyed.
Shortly after that, Montana Western — where Paige was part of the Bulldogs' 2019 national championship team — announced that all gate proceeds from an upcoming Frontier Conference doubleheader against the University of Providence would go toward assisting in her recovery.
For Mick — who graduated from Beaverhead High School in Dillon and then headed to Montana Tech to play football and earn an engineering degree — this gesture for someone who was no longer a student-athlete, and for her husband who played for Western's archrival, was overwhelming.
"I mean the whole thing was incredible," he said. "You don't really realize how many people are in your corner until you need the people in your corner.
"We're just overwhelmed with the amount of kindness and support that this community has. Once a Dawg always a Dawg and that's one thing about those Western guys, they have each other's backs through and through."
Paige's competitive drive made her a star player with Western and that fire hasn't let up as she's begun undergoing physical therapy.
When it's suggested that Paige walks down the hall, "She walks down the hall and says 'I'm going to take a whole lap,'" Mick said.
When it's suggested that she try curling a five-pound dumbbell, "She says, 'Give me the seven-pound dumbbell, I can do it.'"
"That's just who she is," said Mick. "She's pushing herself hard every day."
Mick said, ideally, Paige will be able to be discharged and return home to Dillon sometime in early February.
The road to a full recovery will be long — more surgeries, more physical therapy, more trips back to Salt Lake City. But for the new mother who for years embodied the spirt of what it meant to be a Montana Western Bulldog, Mick is certain that she'll face any upcoming challenges with the same tenacity as when she was suiting up to take the court.
"Paige is so tough and Paige is in such good spirits," he said. "And as if she didn't need any more motivation, having a beautiful little girl. If there's any motivation that somebody would need, it's that."
For updates on Paige's progress click here.
If you'd like to make a donation to Paige's family, Venmo @mick-paffhausen