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Rosemount grad injured in Afghanistan dies

Ben Kopp was born a fighter, but late last week he found a fight he couldn't win.

The 2006 Rosemount High School graduate died Saturday, just over a week after he was injured during fighting in Afghanistan.

Jill Stephenson, Ben's mother, announced her son's death in a message Saturday on a site she set up to allow people to track her son's condition.

Kopp, who was 21 years old, spent much of the last week in an induced coma in Washington, D.C.'s Walter Reed Medical Center as doctors tried to reduce swelling in his brain, the result of a gunshot wound he received July 10 while serving in Afghanistan.

Kopp received treatment immediately in the field, Stephenson said. But according to information she posted on the CaringBridge site a bullet had hit her son's secondary femoral artery. The loss of blood caused him to go into cardiac arrest on the operating table at a battalion surgical center. Doctors cut open his chest to perform CPR.

Kopp never woke up.

Stephenson found out about her son's injury in a phone call the afternoon of July 10.

"It was shocking," she said. "It instantly made me feel sick. It's the phone call that every soldier's mother doesn't want to get."

This was Kopp's first tour in Afghanistan after two in Iraq.

According to a journal Stephenson posted July 15 on the CaringBridge site, Kopp was diagnosed with cerebral hypoxia, defined as a lack of oxygen to the outer part of the brain. The condition was the result of the blood loss Kopp suffered and caused his brain to swell. Treating it required keeping Kopp in a medically-induced coma.

"He is full of tubes and wires and cords and bags and bandages and tape and everything you can imagine the most critical person to look like," Stephenson wrote online. "We have to wait and see what happens over the next day or two. We still need a miracle."

That miracle didn't come despite prayers and positive thoughts from thousands of visitors to the CaringBridge site and to a tribute site set up in Kopp's honor on the social networking site facebook.

As of Monday morning nearly 8,000 people had visited the CaringBridge site. Stephenson said reading the messages from those visitors reminded her of the people left fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Please continue to say prayers for all of the men and women who so proudly serve our country," Stephenson wrote online. "Ben had a deep love of country and has just left a legacy of heroism for all of us to cherish. Be as proud of him as I was as his mother."

There will be services for Kopp in Minnesota, though details are not yet available. He has requested to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.


This wasn't the first time Kopp has had to fight for life. That started the day he was born.

Stephenson had a difficult labor, and after 72 hours doctors decided to deliver by cesarean section. They gave Stephenson morphine to stop the labor, but that caused Kopp's heart rate to drop. He wasn't breathing when he was born, and Stephenson said the fact he recovered amazed his doctors.

Kopp played special teams on the RHS football team and he enjoyed lifting weights. But he had to fight to graduate from high school, too. He was short of credits in his senior year, and he finished his high school career at an area learning center -- an alternative for students who struggle in traditional schools. He was still short one credit near the end of his senior year, so he returned to Rosemount Middle School, where he'd once done some service to make amends for a scale he'd broken. He asked principal Mary Thompson if he could get one credit for that work, and she agreed. Credits made up, Kopp got his diploma.

Stephenson said her son's decision to join the Army was inspired by his great grandfather, who'd served in World War II. He liked the idea of serving his country, Stephenson said. He joined the Rangers because he knew they were tough.

"Ben has always been up for a challenge," Stephenson said. "He came into the world a fighter."

This last fight was just one he couldn't win.