After a head injury, every second counts
It was an unknowing race against time for Ashley Blacketer and Steve Beneke last November when their daughter, Ellie, fell out of a parked car onto the concrete garage floor. With no apparent warning signs of head trauma or serious injury, they thought Ellie had only a sore cheek. Steve gave Ellie an icepack and continued to monitor her overnight.
According to Steve, the warning signs of a serious injury never materialized. And, looking back, Ashley says that Ellie never complained of a headache or abnormal pain. However, while at school the day after her fall, Ellie vomited during recess. The next morning, she was exceptionally lethargic. Both are signs of a brain injury and triggered her parents to recognize that something serious could be wrong.
“Ellie’s teacher was out sick with the flu at this same time, so we attributed her signs most likely to the flu,” Steve said.
However, Ellie’s parents had a gut feeling they needed to take these symptoms more seriously.
“I knew in my heart of hearts it was something more,” Ashley said. After a visit to the pediatrician, Steve took Ellie to the emergency department at Norton Children’s Hospital, where Ellie was now showing signs of a serious, life-threatening injury. Physicians did a computed tomography (CT) scan and discovered an epidural hematoma — a type of blood clot caused by a blood vessel that was torn as a result of a skull fracture from her fall. The blood clot was found 46 hours from the time of the injury.
This quick detection and action by her physicians was crucial in saving Ellie’s life.
“Time was a critical factor,” Ashley said. “I was told very few people survive an epidural hematoma more than 48 hours after the injury.”
Things moved fast for Ellie once the blood clot was detected. She was immediately sent to surgery. Steve stayed with Ellie, holding her IV bag, as she was rapidly transported to the operating room. He says the clinical staff caring for Ellie was highly professional and well organized, providing clear and direct information along every step of the way to Ellie’s impending procedure.
Thomas M. Moriarty, M.D., Ph.D., chief of pediatric neurosurgery, was on call when Ellie arrived at Norton Children’s Hospital and subsequently performed her surgery. Ellie had a large segment of her skull removed to access the blood clot and stop the bleeding. Steve says while the procedure was invasive, there was minimal damage given the extent of the injury.
“I do believe that she would not be here today if we had gone to any other hospital,” Ashley said. “Norton Children’s Hospital is the only hospital [in our area] that has the resources to deliver that level of care.”
It was a long road to full recovery for Ellie. While she was in the hospital for just a few days after surgery, she missed about six weeks of school. According to Ashley, Ellie’s short-term memory was affected, which made the transition back to school difficult.
She was also restricted from recess or physical education classes for six months. However, Ellie’s spirits remained high throughout the experience and, a year after the incident, she is doing remarkably well.
“She recovered much faster than we expected,” Steve said. “Ellie is happy, happy, happy! Every day is a gift.”
“We are so blessed and fortunate,” Ashley said. “She is happy and always has a smile on her face.”
At just 7 years old, Ellie has gone through a life-saving and life-changing experience that has had a real impact on those around her. But, according to her mom, she may not quite realize just how lucky she is.
“I don’t think she truly understands the magnitude of what happened, and maybe that is a blessing,” Ashley said.
Both parents credit the coordinated efforts of the staff at Norton Children’s Hospital for saving their daughter’s life.
“It was the swift services that saved Ellie combined with the highest level of care available to us,” Steve said. “Louisville is blessed to have Norton Children’s Hospital and its many fine employees and volunteers.”
Spotting the signs of head trauma
Kids will be kids, and injuries are bound to happen — from minor scrapes and bruises to serious brain injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports nearly half a million children up to age 14 visit U.S. emergency departments each year. If your child hits his or her head, it is important to watch for signs of head trauma. Recognizing the signs quickly can save your child’s life. Seek treatment immediately if your child has any of these symptoms:
– Extreme tiredness or lethargy
– Abnormal behavior
– Severe headache or stiff neck
– Unequal pupil sizes
– Inability to move an arm or leg
– Loss of consciousness (even briefly)
Some symptoms could take several hours or days to appear.
It is important to continue to monitor your child for any changes in behavior or physical symptoms for several days after a fall or accident. Remember: After a head injury, every second counts!