Matt Thoraldson (standing, right) and friends -- Joe Ames of Apple Valley, Andrew Smith of Hastings, (not pictured) Kevin Johns of Apple Valley, and Jon Roe of Apple Valley -- are restoring a 1952 Chevrolet to donate to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. The car will be used in a fund-raiser to benefit the hospital. Last spring, doctors at the hospital helped save the life of Bella Thoraldson, seated with Laura Docken, Thoraldson’s fiance.

Look at Bella Thoraldson and you’d never know the little girl had a heart condition that might have ended her life. Thanks to the doctors and staff at U of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, the little girl is full of energy and spirit.

For saving their 14-month-old daughter’s life, Matt Thoraldson, his fiancé, Laura Docken, and a team of professionals are creating a classic car they’ll donate to the hospital to help save other children suffering cancer and other diseases.

A Belle Plaine resident, Thoraldson and four other men – Joe Ames of Apple Valley, Andrew Smith of Hastings, Kevin Johns of Apple Valley, and Jon Roe of Apple Valley – are transforming a 1952 Chevrolet Deluxe into a modern-day classic. The team is also benefiting from the expertise of Keith Hennen of Hennen Engines in Prior Lake. By the time they are ready for a reveal party later this year, the car will be showroom new and then some. It will have all the bells and whistles of the 21st Century, from electronics to hand-stitched leather upholstery.

Thoraldson believes the car will be worth at least $40,000. He hopes it brings even more to the hospital where doctors saved Bella’s life during a surgery to repair her heart. Bella suffered from Tetralogy of Fallout, a rare condition caused by a combination of four heart defects present at birth (congenital). Doctors repaired her heart April 4, 2017.

These defects, which affect the structure of the heart, cause oxygen-poor blood to flow out of the heart and to the rest of the body. Infants and children with Tetralogy of Fallot usually have blue-tinged skin because their blood doesn’t carry enough oxygen.

The couple was told the surgery would last three to four hours. Three hours into the surgery, Docken and Thoraldson were told the surgery was going well. But they didn’t hear any more updates for more than nine hours.

“We thought she had died and they didn’t want to tell us,” Thoraldson said. “But the doctors didn’t want to give us any updates until they knew everything was OK.”

Docken said Bella is doing well. The results of monthly checkups the past seven months have been positive. If they continue to go well, by August the checkups may be switched from monthly to annual.

“They said she’ll need another open-heart surgery, but it could be another five, 10, 15 or 20 years,” Docken said. “That’s why they’ll do annual checkups.”

Mad Muscle Garage

Back in 2015, Thoraldson started Mad Muscle Garage. He appraises and improves classic vehicles of nearly all makes and models. The men working with him get together at his house regularly to work on the car. They all have jobs of their own and are donating their time on the project. If Mad Muscle Garage can grow, the men can one day work with Thoraldson on a regular basis.

He’s received about $15,000 worth of donated parts and equipment. Thoraldson won’t count the number of hours going into the transformation.

“You don’t put a number on that,” he said. ““At the end of the day, this will benefit kids.”

The frame of the ’52 Chevy is in the double garage of the couple’s house in east Belle Plaine. In the weeks to come, after the body is primed and painted, the chassis will be installed along with the essential components, the transmission, drive shaft, 383 cubic-inch eight-cylinder small block engine, and the like. The interior wiring and upholstery and little extras will be installed, features like an automatic opener for the gas tank lid, electric windows and other modern components car manufacturers never dreamed of in the early-1950s. The leather upholstery will be an original color – white pearl with a hint of tan.

Thoraldson acquired the two-door Chevy from a man in Iowa. Restoration work on it had been started but never completed. It spent years in a barn, spared from the ravages of winter driving and road salt. He traded the car for work he did on a ’72 Ford pickup.

Working on cars is Thoraldson’s passion. He and Docken both grew up in the same Burnsville neighborhood. She knew of her fiancé’s enthusiasm for cars when the pair started dating seriously.

Docken looks forward to the day when she can park her car in the garage of the couple’s home in east Belle Plaine.

“It’s started out as a hobby and now it’s a career,” she said. There are times when she wakes up at 3 or 4 a.m. only to discover her fiancé is in the garage working on the car as quietly as possible. “At least I know where he is. He could have a lot worse hobbies.”

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