Before July 11, 2011 Matthew Davis was a recently married 22 year old man. He had just gotten a puppy 3 weeks prior and painted the kitchen of his new house with his wife of 7 months July 10. He was running late to work Monday morning because he was exhausted from the weekend long improvements done to the kitchen. He was traveling on 516 attempting to merge into traffic on I-16 Savannah when he struck the rear of a vehicle illegally parked in the lane. The merge ramp onto I-16 Savannah is a sharp right hand turn and difficult to see around and a car parked in the lane would be impossible to avoid much less even notice until it was too late.
Matthew was rushed to the Memorial University Medical Center. Matthew sustained an open femur fracture, fracture to the neck of the femur, lacerated liver, fractured rib, fractured clavicle, fractured jaw in 2 places, occipital skull fracture and a severe traumatic brain injury. To be more specific, a Severe Diffuse Axonal Injury. This means the damage is widespread throughout the brain rather than in one focal area. Diffuse Axonal meaning the axons in the brain have become sheared (torn, stretched, kinked, twisted.) The axons that are stretched, kinked, or otherwise damaged but not torn may or may not repair themselves. The torn axons cannot be repaired, therefore the brain will attempt to reroute itself giving the torn axons functions new areas to work through. This is easier said than done and age plays a huge role. Younger people have a better chance. Matthew had surgery to repair the breaks to his femur and a rod was placed in his right leg from the hip to the knee and a plate was placed in his hip. Reconstructive surgery was performed on his jaw and it was wired shut. and remained wired for 6 weeks. We were told to remove Matthew from life support 9 days after his injury. 90% of people with his injury never regain consciousness, the 10% that do never maintain a normal or independent life, and less than 5% come close to a 100% recovery. This was a difficult choice for me, being his wife I knew that he did not want to remain a vegetable and here the doctors were telling me that’s exactly what will happen. I prayed a lot and choose not to take him off of life support. The next day Matthew opened his eyes. Exciting as this is I later learned that eyes open without consciousness is typical of a vegetative state.
We were transferred to Carolinas Rehabilitation in Charlotte, NC for their emerging response program. They use medications, sensory stimulation and passive range of motion to try to “wake up” the brain. After 5 days in rehab Matt was taken to the ER with a heart rate of 180, temperature of 105, he was purple, shaking, and sweating. He stopped breathing and was admitted into the ICU where he stayed for another 2 weeks. The doctors performed multiple spinal taps to check for hydrocephalus, a build up of spinal fluid in the brain. He did not have enough that required a shunt and was transferred back to rehab where we the doctors, nurses, and I battled “neuro storms” for the next few weeks. One day his neuro storms just stopped and he never had another. He began tracking and localizing people around the room and following us with his eyes. He was weened off of the trache and eventually was able to hold his head up. There were no other purposeful movements or responses to commands. Matthew and I came home to Savannah, GA in the bonus room of my mom’s house late September of 2011.
Right away things were different. Matthew was constantly watching us, he started kicking and moving his arms, trying to take off his neck brace, and grunting a lot. My mother and I cared for Matthew 24/7. We bathed him, fed him through a PEG tube in his stomach, supplied medications, maintained his bowel care and clean up, turned him every 2 hours to prevent bed sores, including during the night, and used what I’d learned at Carolinas Rehabilitation to do speech, occupational, and physical therapy with him in the home. After about 3 weeks of being home I put Matt’s hat in his hand and told him to put it on. He said “I’m trying.”
After being “emerged from the coma” Matthew was admitted to Memorial University Medical Center’s Rehabilitation Institute for 2 and 1/2 months. He received speech, occupational, and physical therapy every day for a minimum of 3 hours frequently more. At this point Matthew is in the 10%! While at Memorial Matthew continued to recover everyday. Matthew received an Intrathecal Baclofen Pump in early December to control his tone. Tone is a constant muscle contraction that inhibits the brain and body from performing daily tasks. This pump sits in his stomach and connects to the base of his spine pushing a controlled dose of Baclofen directly where it needs to go. In occupational therapy he learned to play games, dress himself, feed himself, bathe himself, brush his teeth and hair, and wash his face. In speech Matthew worked on his memory and his eating. Upon admission Matthew passed a swallow and was put on a pureed diet. He quickly graduated to a regular diet and the feeding tube was removed! The last 2 to 3 years of his memory are blurry and jumbled but his long term and ability to learn new information remains intact. He can do math, tell time, read and comprehend, count money, problem solve, write, and he is orientated to the date and understands what happened and where he is. In physical therapy Matthew learned trunk control and was eventually able to hold himself up and then sit up from a lay down position all on his own. He learned balance and could stand on his own while holding onto to a rail. He learned to stand from the wheelchair, using a person for balance, and take steps to get into bed or onto the toilet. He became continent of his bladder and bowels, which means he knows when he has to go and goes on the toilet. He after many stressful weeks he began walking with a walker with minimal assistance. On December 5, 2012 Matt and I celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary. A day I did not think I would be able to celebrate. Matthew’s personality is exactly the same. He is sarcastic and witty, funny and charming, and still so very sweet. He is not depressed or violent. He laughs, cries, and gets embarrassed. He shows all range of emotions. His interests are the same and his taste in music and movies hasn’t changed. Matthew is now part of the less than 5%!!
After Memorial Matthew went to Walton Rehabilitation’s NeuroRestorative in Augusta, GA for 7 weeks. This is a transitional living home for people with brain injury. The staff here works with outpatient therapists at Walton Rehab and creates an atmosphere similar to a home setting but in a healthy safe environment for the patients.
Matthew came home on February 17, 2012 where he continues to recover! Last week Matthew walked up 2 flights of stairs, and walking with the walker gets easier and easier. One day Matthew will be able to finish college, get a job, and have the family he desires. Matthew is a real miracle.
Matt had his Intrathecal Baclofen Pump removed due to an infection. He is doing so well without it, we have decided to keep it out! Matt has also come off of the Fentanyl Patch, Propranolol, Ritilan, and the extra dose of baclofen to replace the pump. He has a goal to walk by himself by the end of the Summer of 2012!
Matt is currently attending therapy at in Beyond Therapy at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA. He is able to stay home alone while I work as a nanny. Life is improving and he is progressing daily! We have an apartment in Atlanta, brought our dog up with us, and are learning how to live a normal life. We joined a church and made great friends! Matt is doing exceptionally well in therapy and in life. Continue to pray for us and all those affected by TBI.