National Nurses Week: Nurses became 'part of family' for teen of KCON staff member

Like most active high school students, Sam Smalldon had given little thought to the nursing profession, even given that his mother works for the Kirkhof College of Nursing.

That changed in September when Sam was in a severe car crash that left him hospitalized until December 30. Sam, 17 and a football player at West Ottawa High School, was thrown from his car and unconscious when first responders arrived at the scene in Holland. From Zeeland Hospital, he was airlifted to Helen DeVos Children's Hospital.

Sam Smalldon hugs his mother, Jill Smalldon
Sam Smalldon hugs his mother, Jill Smalldon. The teen spent 100 days in the hospital following a car accident.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Jill Smalldon, Sam's mother and KCON director of communications and external relations, said Sam underwent brain surgery to remove a hematoma. He also suffered bruised lungs and kidneys and broken bones.

"From that first night at Helen DeVos, I stayed with Sam. A friend came to give me some clothes," Smalldon said.

After a week in intensive care, Sam was transferred to a regular hospital floor before moving in late September to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital for recovery, which, at that point, "looked grim at best," Smalldon said.

Sam said he could not do anything for himself when he arrived at Mary Free Bed. He began to notice the nursing staff and their roles, he said.

"They basically saved me," he said. "They took care of everything. I had a feeding tube and needed round-the-clock care."

For their part, the nursing staff began rooting for Sam quickly, Jill Smalldon said.

"They basically became part of my family," she said. "Some would come in and give him a high-five before starting their shift. Some nurses had special handshakes they would do with him."

handwritten cards are displayed
Some of the cards Sam Smalldon received from KCON and hospital nurses and staff members are pictured.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills
Sam Smalldon holds a signed football
Sam Smalldon holds a football signed by his West Ottawa High School football team. The ball was presented to Sam after the team's inaugural game in its new stadium.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

A steady stream of occupational, speech, music and physical therapies helped Sam be strong enough to leave Mary Free Bed after 100 days in the hospital.

Therapies continued in the early winter. Because of balance issues, Sam was prescribed an attendant at school and home to help prevent falls. A setback sent Sam back to the hospital in February for a second brain surgery to alleviate the amount of fluid that was blocking what Smalldon called "the brain drain." 

By early spring, Sam said he was able to reflect on his medical journey and look forward. "I am happy to still be alive and out of the hospital. I can see my friends now," he said.

He said he plans to take summer classes to make up for lost days. Sam is now coaching fourth and fifth grade flag football and looks forward to being the varsity football team's manager in the fall.

Smalldon said many of the nurses who cared for Sam were Laker alumni. "We met some preceptors who have Grand Valley students during their clinicals also," she said. 

"They just loved him and had so much compassion. I still have some nurses who check on my Facebook to see how he's doing," she said.

staff in scrubs and masks line a hallway to applaud Sam Smalldon, as he is helped down the hall
Sam Smalldon walks down the hallway at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital as staff line the hall to applaud.
Image credit - courtesy photo
group of people in hospital scrubs and masks raising fists for patient in front center, Sam Smalldon
Staff at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital stand with Sam Smalldon, center, before his release from the hospital.
Image credit - courtesy photo


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