Some things in life you just can’t wrap your mind around. On August 9, 2019 my thoughts were on our upcoming family vacation. A phone call changed everything!
My husband, Andrew, had been at a family cottage with our three kids, two-year-old Abigail and our five-yearold twin boys, Oliver and Elliott. While on route back home he called telling me there had been a car accident, while telling someone on the scene that Elliott had been asleep during the car ride home. Why would he be saying that? Elliott loved to nap in the car, but what did that have to do with a car accident?
It had everything to do with it! A car traveling in the opposite direction lost control, crossed the centre median, went airborne and slammed into our minivan. Andrew, Oliver and Abigail were shaken and bruised but physically alright. Elliott was unconscious and unresponsive at the scene. Doctors at a Gatineau hospital did everything in their power to keep Elliott alive while keeping an open line to CHEO’s trauma team, but Elliott was not responding. They were not optimistic and we were brought in to say goodbye to Elliott. Staff were not ready to give up so he was then transferred by ambulance to CHEO, while I followed behind in a taxi. It was surreal. I could not grasp what was happening.
The results of the CT scan presented by the team at CHEO revealed that Elliott had a head injury, bilateral lung and spinal contusions and a broken femur. He was admitted to CHEO’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), ventilated and on every monitor imaginable.
Further testing, including several MRIs, would show that he had a severe traumatic brain injury called diffuseaxonal injury. It meant Elliott’s brain had damage throughout with bleeding found in various locations of the brain. Every area of the brain was affected. My mind seemed unwilling to comprehend. It is impossible to predict how the human brain will heal. Things seem to flicker on and off, you can’t be sure that these flickers are part of progress or random events. Sometimes we would question if we had even seen a response from Elliott, or if it was simply our imaginations. But after the first night at CHEO he took a few breaths.
As Elliott stabilized and slowly started waking up, it was clear that his injuries would not be resolved quickly. At first, breathing was difficult because of his lung contusions and a paralyzed diaphragm on the right side. His right arm had no mobility at all. We soon found out that the violence of the accident had torn several nerves from his spinal column.
Thankfully, we had all the resources at CHEO available to us including neurologists, pediatrics, plastics, physiotherapists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, nurses, social workers, child life specialists, not to mention numerous pieces of specialized equipment. All of this on hand to help Elliott thanks to the support of donors like you. CHEO’s team began to look at how Elliott was going to regain as much of his capabilities as possible. We didn’t know what that meant, but we knew it would be a long road. And we knew we were lucky to have CHEO to show us the way.
There is a benefit to facing an insurmountable struggle like this when you’re five - your brain is very adaptable. Using strategies taught to us by the rehab team, we hoped Elliott’s brain would ‘reprogram’ itself. Everything you can imagine had to be relearned, including speaking, eating, and walking just to name a few.
Elliott was unable to talk at first, then he slowly began making sounds. We were in the midst of being referred to the augmentative and alternative communication program at CHEO, planning to support Elliott’s very limited verbal skills with the many devices purchased with donor dollars, when one morning, out of the blue, he said, “Mommy, change my diaper!” It was amazing! Since then, he has continued to improve his speech.
Our home was equipped with a hospital suite in the living room and wheelchair access throughout the main floor, including a lift to transfer him from his wheelchair to a hospital bed. A physiotherapist from CHEO continued to work with Elliott and almost two months after the accident he began to stand upright. Soon after this, Elliott surprised everyone when he walked across the room to a table and picked up one of his toys. Our hope was becoming reality as Elliott started to move around like a normal toddler. We were stunned, elated, emotional and so thankful to everyone who helped make this possible – including you and other donors like you.
Despite all the progress he has made thus far, we don’t really know what the future holds for Elliott. With CHEO’s team, anchored by Dr. Anna McCormick managing the puzzle pieces that make up Elliott’s therapy plan, we’re looking forward with optimism. Seven months after an accident that should have ended his life, Elliott is progressing steadily.
Life before August 9, 2019 feels like another world. We grapple with the loss of the Elliott we knew before. But our son is determined and we’re thankful. When he wants to do something, he will get it done. Elliott would not be standing here today if it were not for the phenomenal care at CHEO and the generous support of donors like you. Together you have given Elliott the tools and strategies to be who he was meant to be and you have given our family hope and a brighter future.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and we hope you know that your donation to CHEO will make a huge difference for kids like Elliott.
Christine (and Andrew)
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