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Steeler fan, paralyzed chasing monkey that stole his hat, flown to Malaysia for surgery

| Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017, 10:45 a.m.
Jeff 'Swede' Swedenhjelm, in a Facebook photo dated Oct. 9. A native of Erie living in Bali, he fell from a roof chasing a monkey that had stolen his Steelers cap.
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Jeff 'Swede' Swedenhjelm, in a Facebook photo dated Oct. 9. A native of Erie living in Bali, he fell from a roof chasing a monkey that had stolen his Steelers cap.
Jeff 'Swede' Swedenhjelm, in a Facebook photo dated Dec. 22 and posted by his daughter. A native of Erie living in Bali, he fell from a roof chasing a monkey that had stolen his Steelers cap.
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Jeff 'Swede' Swedenhjelm, in a Facebook photo dated Dec. 22 and posted by his daughter. A native of Erie living in Bali, he fell from a roof chasing a monkey that had stolen his Steelers cap.

His loyalty to Steeler Nation sent Jeff "Swede" Swedenhjelm chasing after a monkey that had stolen his favorite Steelers cap, then spinning off a rooftop in Bali.

Now, fellow Steelers fans have been a large part of the support that's gotten him a flight to Malaysia for emergency spinal surgery, his daughter said Tuesday.

Swedenhjelm, 40, grew up in Erie and moved to Destin, Fla., 17 years ago, then left to travel around the world in 2016. For about a year, he's run a pleasure boat for tourists in the Indonesian island of Bali, said his daughter, Lyric Swedenhjelm, 21, who is attending school in Chicago.

Last week, a monkey snatched his prized hat from his head and Swedenhjelm gave chase, ending up on a rooftop. He got the hat back, Lyric said, but he fell 33 feet from the roof and was left paralyzed from the chest down.

"If you look at his Facebook, he's got that hat in almost every picture," his daughter said. "Steeler Nation is everywhere, but you can't easily get another one in Bali, so he wasn't just going to let it go."

Lyric said funds raised online helped pay for her father to be flown from Bali to Kuala Lumpur, where there were more options for his treatment. Many comments mentioned their shared support for Swedenhjelm's beloved Steelers.

The spinal injury also weakened Swedenhjelm's lungs to a point that he developed pneumonia and required assistance breathing. He was scheduled for surgery to replace two vertebrae late Tuesday night, Eastern U.S. time, which should help doctors further evaluate the extent of the damage, Lyric said.

"He's a really optimistic person, and he's really grateful for the mountains people moved to get him there," she said. "He's being really strong, and that's helping the rest of us to be strong."

On Facebook, Lyric shared a video from Scott Wells, a friend of her father's who flew in from Hawaii after the accident. The video showed Swedenhjelm, confined to a stretcher but awake and smiling, as he was transferred from an ambulance to the airplane that would take him to Malaysia.

In an earlier video from a hospital bed, Jeff Swedenhjelm thanked everyone who had donated or sent support, especially fellow Steelers fans.

"I was chasing that damn hat because I know it's the greatest club on Earth," he said, a Terrible Towel hanging behind his head. "I'm representing you guys, and I hope you're representing me."

"I'm going to come back stronger, bigger and badder," he said. "Once I get back on my feet, I'm going to do something major. ... We'll have a huge party."

Lyric said her father's pneumonia had worsened to the point that doctors at the new hospital would not let him off his breathing apparatus to speak. Wells and hospital staff were sending updates to Lyric and her mother, who remained in the United States to direct all the funding toward Jeff's treatment and rehab, but those updates were usually happening in the middle of the night.

"When I'd be sleeping, it's their business hours over there," she said. "I'm getting a few hours here and there."

A GoFundMe page set up to " Help Swede Walk Again " had raised $73,000 of its $100,000 goal as of Tuesday afternoon. The page description said the cheapest medevac flight to surgery was $67,000; further proceeds will go toward his medical bills and rehab.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6660, msantoni@tribweb.com or via Twitter @msantoni.

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