Signs of progress for Christopher Dewey came Thursday through the gesture of an upraised thumb and the squeeze of his wife's hand on command.
The 26-year-old deputy's doctors were "cautiously optimistic" about his prognosis the day after surgery to remove bullet fragments from his brain and to repair a torn liver.
Dewey, of the Mahnomen County, Minn., Sheriff's Department, suffered both bullet wounds Wednesday morning while investigating a report of gunshots in the town of Mahnomen.
Dewey remains under sedation much of the time at Fargo's MeritCare Hospital, where he remains in critical but stable condition, to help reduce swelling of his brain.
Yet he has been able to recognize family members and respond to requests that he move his extremities.
"I'm happy to report Chris is doing well," said Dr. Robert Sticca, the MeritCare surgeon who repaired Dewey's damaged liver and staunched the bleeding in his abdomen.
"He had a stable night," Sticca added. "He's beginning to show signs of being aware of his surroundings. He's recognized his wife and been able to squeeze her hand."
Dr. Chad Justesen, the neurosurgeon who performed Dewey's brain surgery, said he is encouraged by his patient's early signs, but said it will take more time for the extent of the brain damage to become clear.
Dewey's movements showed function on his right side, Justesen said, but his family said they also saw movement from the left side, a hopeful indicator.
An image scan of Dewey's brain showed little swelling, which means Justesen might bring the patient out of sedation, possibly as early as today.
"I do think he's doing very well, certainly better than average," the neurosurgeon said. "Better than I expected for the first day after surgery."
During Wednesday's emergency brain surgery, Justesen only addressed the most immediate problems. "I cleaned things up in an effort to decrease swelling and infection," he said.
Once Dewey is off sedation, doctors will be better able to evaluate the extent of his brain function after several days, Justesen said.
More surgeries to repair his brain are likely, and Dewey is expected to require hospitalization for two to four weeks, followed by several months of rehabilitation therapy.
Ross Boulden, Dewey's father-in-law, said the family is grateful for the overwhelming support they have received from fellow law enforcement officers, who have set up a fund to help the family. Boulden also thanked the staff at MeritCare and Red Cross.
"Chris is the most wonderful man you could ever hope to meet," said Boulden, who is from Princeton, Minn. His daughter Emily married Dewey three years ago. They were high school sweethearts.
"He is looking forward very much to starting a family," Boulden said, reading from a statement by his daughter.
Dewey, who has been a deputy in Mahnomen County for four years, received many well-wishes - even from people he had arrested, the father-in-law said.
"He's touched many hearts," Boulden said. "Even in doing his job, he touched peoples' hearts."
Boulden added: "The family has a strong faith. We will just put his fate in God's hands."
How to help:
* A fund to help the family of Christopher Dewey has been established. Donations can be sent to the First National Bank of Mahnomen, c/o Deputy Chris Dewey, PO Box 378, 103 N. Main St., Mahnomen, MN 56557.
* Updates of Christopher Dewey's condition can be found by entering chrisdewey in the search field at www.caringbridge.org.