The Importance of Nurses - a 16-year-old's journey to recovery

The Importance of Nurses - a 16-year-old's journey to recovery

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My name is Jill. I have worked for the Kirkhof College of Nursing at Grand Valley State University for almost 8 years. I am not a nurse, but have learned to appreciate nurses and grown to have great respect for the profession. I did not know how important the profession would be to me until September 6, 2022.

I am a mother of 4 boys, ages 26, 24, 20 and 17. On September 6, 2022, my youngest son was involved in a single driver car accident that forever changed our lives. I got ‘the call’ that every parent dreads.

Sam was on his way to his dad’s house at approximately 9:30 p.m. From the perspective of the 911 caller, his car was going very fast down a main strip on the north side of Holland when Sam lost control and veered off the road into a property full of trees. Due to the high rate of speed, Sam’s car was sheared in two pieces upon impact with the first tree, and he was thrown 15-20 feet from the car.  He lay on the ground, unresponsive and not breathing, until the first responders arrived. He was transported to Zeeland Hospital by ambulance where he spent a very short amount of time, only to be kept alive until he could be flown by Aero Med to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Sam underwent brain surgery to remove a hematoma shortly after arriving. He had broken bones, bruised lungs, kidneys and other organs, and many cuts and bruises – I only knew he was my child because I saw an old scar on his face from a dog bite he got when he was 2 years old. The images in my mind will remain forever.

Sam was in the ICU at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital for 6 days and then transferred to a regular floor for 8 days, where he remained unconscious and on a very long list of medications. On September 21, Sam was transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital for recovery, which looked grim at best. Sam was put on a schedule of Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Speech Therapy, Recreational Therapy, and Music Therapy from approximately 8a - 4p five days a week – sometimes a little extra on weekends!  Yes, even while unconscious. He regained consciousness around mid-November, he re-learned how to walk, swallow, eat, talk, and live over the course of his 100-day stay at Mary Free Bed and on December 30, 2022, Sam WALKED, on his own, out of there to head home.

The journey didn’t stop there.  Approximately 5 months after his brain surgery the night of his accident, Sam had a follow up MRI and visit with his neurosurgeon, which was expected to be brief and a typical check of how his brain was doing. His MRI image showed a significant amount of fluid on his brain due to a blockage to the ‘drain’ on his brain that is supposed to discharge the fluid as it accumulates daily. This was hard to hear, as Sam had to go back in for another brain surgery to alleviate the pressure on his brain the fluid was causing. On Feb. 21st, Sam was readmitted to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital for a second brain surgery. Round 2. He was due to be discharged two days later, but ended up with a stomach virus (which they weren’t sure it was, or if it was related to the pressure on his brain and the surgery was not helping!) that kept him there an additional 5 days. Sam had some setbacks from round 2 regarding his balance, fatigue, stability and recovery. But since his discharge in December, he has had outpatient therapies and it didn’t take long for him to regain his strength and stamina.

Here's the part where I talk about his care. Enter the most incredible team of health care professionals who helped put Sam’s ‘pieces’ (and my pieces) back together to where we are today. Starting from the 911 first responders, AMR, and Aero Med flight crew to the surgeons, the physicians, the ICU team, the pediatric specialists, and more!  However, in this version of my story, I want to focus on the nurses, the truest caregivers, the behind-the-scenes warriors who do a lot of the heavy lifting in patient care, and who are hugely important to patients and their families.

While Sam was in Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital for those first 16 days of his recovery, the nurses administered ALL the meds (and by “all” I mean 3 printed pages of them) around the clock. They took his vitals and did all the things that nurses learn in nursing school. But do you know what else they did?  They talked me off the ledge when I was going a little ‘crazy’ about the spikes in his heartrate or his getting fidgety; they found out the answer to questions they didn’t have the answers to….always; they were incredibly patient with my request to know the ‘why’ behind giving a medication, the reason they were applying something, or they reason something else had been added to the schedule of his days; they calmed me when Sam was experiencing neurostorms, because they were part of the team that managed them; they fully communicated Sam’s situation with the next nurse at shift changes so I didn’t feel like I had to explain everything all over again each time a new nurse entered; they sent Sam a card in the mail after we left each time to say it was a pleasure to take care of him and they wished him the best in his recovery.

While Sam was in Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, the nurses did everything noted above, but because of Sam’s length of stay there, became even more! They watched his progress go from ‘there’s really no way this kid is going to come out of this’ to ‘where did the kid go that used to be in that room? (Other nurse….’that’s still him’ and the look of astonishment that followed) to walking out of that hospital 100 days later. They managed his inability to eat (feeding tube), his 3 printed pages of medications around the clock, his inability to get dressed, go to the bathroom, perform personal hygiene, shower, transport himself anywhere, communicate, or move. They got to know him and his routine, his likes, dislikes, and needs, and took him under their wing as one of their own. They advocated for him when things changed in his routine and they (and/or I) didn’t feel it suited his recovery and always had his best interest at heart. They allowed me to be part of the team, such as when there were medications that were given ‘as needed’ (prn….because I learned alllll the terminology! = ), they asked me what I thought about giving it before doing so. They stopped in his room to see him before their shift started, or after their shift ended just to say hi, bye, or do a special handshake they started with him, or play his favorite game, or give him his favorite fidget toy, or just simply to tell him when they would see him next. 

They were such a critical part of Sam’s care – not just to “do all the things”, but to wrap around him in compassion, kindness, caring and heartfelt attention.

Where we are today

We just celebrated 100 days OUT of the hospital for Sam, and he is continuing with outpatient OT, PT and Speech, with supplemental OT, PT and Speech at West Ottawa High school where he is finishing his junior year. He is still prescribed 24/7 attendant care (someone to be with him at all times) for any instability, or balance issues, but is back to school full time. He has made incredible strides in his memory recovery as well as his physical and mental capacities and is off of ALL of his medications. He is attending prom with a date, who was, and remains to be, a really good friend. Prom also happens to fall on his 17th birthday – one we weren’t sure we would even be able to celebrate. Sam was a wide receiver on West Ottawa’s football team, which he will obviously not be able to do his senior year but has been invited to be the team manager this Fall – he is very excited. He is helping to coach a middle school flag football team this spring. He will take a course or two this summer to continue working toward his diploma, but is slated to graduate with his class next year. He is hoping to work on his strength a little extra this summer with one of the amazing team members at West Ottawa who made his transition back to school the best it could possibly be. We are very lucky.

Sam’s got angels surrounding him both spiritually and humanly – there is no doubt. Some of those special angels on earth, we call Nurses.

To Mattie, Josie, Josie, Sophie (Zoey), Ally, Alli, Janna, Autumn, Erica (Electrica), Jamie, Sarah, Susan, Claire, Kim, Alicia, Mo, Glas, Matt, Lauren, Heath, Supriya and the many many additional nurses who are just as important: you will forever remain in our hearts, forever be our heroes, and forever be Sam’s every day angels. We wouldn’t be here without you.


**Sam’s full journey was documented daily for 4 months on my facebook page (posts are public) and I still continue to update on there periodically. The hashtag that was everything during our journey is #SamStrong . It takes a village.

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Page last modified May 8, 2023