Austin’s Second Chance

Austin's discharge

A miraculous recovery after a traumatic brain injury

Watching sixteen-year-old Austin Vanderford play video games with younger patients and coach them on game strategies, or seeing him happily serving coffee drinks to hospital staff in the Bethany Children’s Pathways program, you would never guess that he had been given no hope for survival just months earlier.

On April 20th, Austin sustained a traumatic brain injury. After a life flight transport to the closest trauma center, his family was told that his injuries were non-operable and that Austin would not survive. Tests showed no brain activity, and the decision was made to keep Austin on a ventilator in the trauma center until his family could gather to say their goodbyes.

Austin was baptized and read his last rites. Arrangements were made with a funeral home and Austin’s family worked with LifeShare to have his organs donated. To ensure that the lungs he would donate were healthy, a bronchial test was required, and the ventilator was shut off.

In that moment, Austin grabbed the ventilator hose and began gasping for air.

“One miracle after another started,” recalls Austin’s father, Bob. “Austin shook the doctor’s hand the next morning.”

Because of the severity of his diagnosis, Austin’s injuries had not been treated, yet somehow several of them appeared to have healed themselves. The damage to his carotid artery and palate was no longer apparent, and the drainage of spinal fluid had stopped within three days.

“The decision was made to keep him sedated and on life support to let the swelling go down and the brain heal,” Bob says. “When they woke him up, he was alert and could communicate through hand squeezes.”

On May 4th the drain was removed from Austin’s brain. At this point, Austin faced another hurdle as he became unresponsive. A CT scan showed that the brain had swelled again, and he had suffered three strokes. Austin underwent surgery to place a shunt in his brain.

In another miraculous turn of events, Bob reports, “Austin was initially paralyzed on his left side, but after the strokes, he regained some movement. The medical staff said they’ve never seen a stroke reverse paralysis.”

Austin transferred to the Brain Injury Response program at Bethany Children’s Health Center on June 7th. He has had an active rehabilitation, with extensive therapies, planned outings and making strong connections with other patients.

“Austin can carry on a conversation with you. He can laugh and joke. He’s very kind and considerate with the younger patients,” says Bob. “He’s come out of his shell and his kindness and consideration are overflowing. He has been inspired by the progress made by other patients.”

Austin and his family have stayed in touch with recently discharged patients whom Austin befriended during his stay. Bob says, “Bethany Children’s is awesome. We will always be family.”

As Austin heads home, Bob looks back on all that has happened, saying, “It doesn’t matter what God you believe in, everybody’s belief in their higher power touched Austin’s life and our family. Everybody’s higher power has worked miracles in his life.”

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