On the afternoon of Nov. 7, 2010, Jennifer Heydon and her husband, Chris, received the most terrifying news any parent can hear: Their 7-year-old daughter, Grace, had been involved in a serious car accident.
That fall day was the beginning of a long road to recovery for Grace, but the team at Blank Children's Hospital's Level II Pediatric Trauma Center helped the determined farm girl and animal lover from Maxwell return home to the family and life she loves.
Chaos, Then Coordination
When the Heydons arrived at the scene of the accident on Highway 65, they found chaos and destruction, but not their daughter. Grace, who had been riding to a play date with friends, was thrown from the vehicle after it was struck by a minivan.
"A bystander who witnessed the accident eventually found her in a ditch," Jennifer says. "My husband and I held her and told her we loved her until the paramedics, and, soon after, a Life Flight air ambulance, arrived. We requested Grace be taken to Blank Children's and Iowa Methodist because of the reputation of its trauma center and the high-quality care my nephew, a cerebral palsy patient, had had there ."
Life Flight personnel stabilized and sedated Grace during the flight. When she arrived at Blank Children's, she-like all trauma patients-immediately began receiving care from a specialized team.
"A trauma surgeon, surgical resident, two nurses and a paramedic meet every injured patient," says Sheryl Sahr, MD, general and trauma surgeon at The Iowa Clinic - Trauma Surgery & Surgical Critical Care. "The team for pediatric patients also includes a pediatric emergency medicine physician, pediatric nurse and a Child Life staff member."
Grace suffered five broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a compression fracture in her neck and a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Peter Tonui, MD, general and trauma surgeon at The Iowa Clinic - Trauma Surgery & Surgical Critical Care, repaired wounds on Grace's face and elbow. Two days after the accident, physicians took Grace off of sedative medication, and she entered a three-week coma. Her fight for life was just beginning.
"Physicians had no idea if Grace would emerge from the coma, but I always believed she would," Jennifer says. "Not being able to hold my child or see her eyes for three weeks was an excruciating experience. Eventually, however, she showed signs of waking up-her toes moved, her eyes flashed open, and then, finally, she was back."
Grace spent five challenging months at Blank Children's. John Piper, MD, CIME, FACS, neurosurgeon at The Iowa Clinic - Neurosurgery, fused Grace's compression fracture after a course of bracing. She overcame pneumonia and nightly episodes of post-coma storming, when the brain tries to communicate with the body following TBI and causes symptoms such as elevated heart rate and agitation. Occupational, physical and speech therapists from Blank Children's worked with Grace five days per week.
Finally, on April 1, 2011, Grace returned to life at home with her parents and little brother. In many ways, she didn't miss a beat. She attended summer school, and, today, is reading at the same level as her fourth-grade classmates. She showed some of her animals at the county fair during the summer of 2011 from a motorized wheelchair. Today, at age 9, she loves spending time with friends and attending a handicapped cheerleading program in West Des Moines.
Thanks in part to continued rehabilitative therapy at Blank Children's, Jennifer believes Grace will one day shed her reverse walker and walk completely under her own power again.
"The care Grace received at Blank Children's was exemplary," her mother says, "because everyone had our daughter's best interest at heart."