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On the Open Road Part 2: On the Road of Healing

Part 2 of Jenny’s story. Names and details have been changed.

To recap where we left off, Jenny had suffered severe injuries from her car accident that required a vast amount of medical support. Jenny’s recovery was difficult but swift. After a week in the intensive care unit she was able to breathe without a machine and ready to move to the rehabilitation floor of the hospital—this is where I met her for the first time. While in rehab she would spend several weeks with occupational, physical, and speech therapists re-learning how to do basic things such as moving, eating, talking, and thinking. A team of doctors tended to her medical needs, but the real gains came from daily hard work of an interdisciplinary rehabilitation team that also included child life, nutrition, recreation, and music specialists. Things started slowly at first. She spent much time asleep or unresponsive, but would occasional mouth the words “yes” or “no” to questions. She could only slightly move her left arm and leg and was being fed through a tube inserted directly into her stomach from outside her belly. Within days she was more alert and answering simple questions with one or two word responses. She knew who and where she was and what happened to her. She began to move her left side even more and even occasionally showed a smile! Within a week she was doing exercises throwing and kicking bean bags with her left side and had significantly improved her memory. She could name her doctors and therapists, and especially loved the therapy dog working with her every day! After two weeks she was on her feet using a walker to go up and down the hallways. She smiled more and even made occasional jokes. However, she still had difficulty with problem solving. Near the end of the third week, I walked into her room to say hello and start the day when to my delight, she turned to me and said, “Good morning! Long-Road-Traumatic-Brain-Injury-Rehabilitation-Rehab-Inpatient-Accident-TherapyHow are you?” Her speech was still slow and deliberate with some slurring from continued left-sided weakness in her face, but her words were clear and beautiful! This was the first time she had initiated a conversation without being prompted and asked her own question; it was music to my ears! Within another week she was ready to go home. Though she still had a long way to go, she was strong enough to be safe at home and continue therapy through outpatient. She shared how excited she was to be home with her family, see her friends more often, and continue healing. Her goal was to make it back for senior year of high school and with her tenacity, I had every confidence she would get there.

Jenny’s recovery was a group effort.  There is an exceptional and diligent team of therapists on the rehabilitation team. The regimen is intense: several hours of physical, occupational, and speech therapy per day. Additionally, the therapists are master motivators and have a way of getting kids up and engaged in activities. It was such a joy to see Jenny delight in her improvements especially towards the end of the fourth week of rehab. There are staff to help children cope with their hospitalization including child life specialists, therapeutic recreation, and music therapy. These specialists not only help children find joy during their days, but also help them work towards life outside the hospital. There are teachers who help prevent children from falling behind in school as well as multiple therapists who take children on outings away from the hospital, offering a fun break from their routine and help them re-acclimate socially.

Of course, the most important aspect of Jenny’s recovery was her courage and resilience. She had to decide that there was hope for recovery and then choose to work hard for it. As with most children who come through the inpatient rehabilitation service, the path forward is difficult. For many, such as Jenny, life is forever changed. However, as a little, big fighter, she is an example of hope for children everywhere facing a tough road.

*FYI March 22, 2017 is Brain Injury Awareness Day.  Take this opportunity to learn about what challenges people with traumatic brain injury face and what is being done to help support them.

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Little Big Fighters is a blog that aims to inform the public about both the well-known and lesser known issues surrounding pediatric medicine. We hope to find and provide practical ways where we can become active participants of change.