Facing Death, Teen’s Miracle Recovery Astounds Doctors

Post a Comment » Written on February 28th, 2008     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

EL CAJON, CA (January 28, 2008) – Doctors told Dwight and Lisa Brinkerhoff they had only a half hour to decide whether to approve surgery for their 13-year-old son, Nick, who had just suffered a stroke.

If Nick did not have the surgery he would die within days, they were advised. The operation, however, offered only a one percent chance of success and a greater likelihood that it might put him in a coma from which he would never awaken.

The family, who attend Community Covenant Church, opted for the surgery. That was last May. Two weeks ago, Nick walked ten steps without any assistance and has returned to his eighth-grade class.

FamilyThe intervening months since the surgery have been filled with grief, faith, hope, miracle, perseverance and the coming together of a church community eager to support one of its families, Dwight says. To see additional photos, visit Recovery a Slow Process. To catch up on Nick’s thoughts, visit his blog at Nick Brinkerhoff.

A week before the surgery, Nick had started to get a headache that lasted a week and then developed into what the family thought was a “violent case of the flu,” his 16-year-old brother DJ wrote on a family blog. “However, at about six o’clock that night, he stopped responding, his face was pale, and his eyes rolled back a bit.” The Brinkerhoffs rushed their son to the hospital.

Strokes are extremely rare in teenagers, so the doctors were shocked at what they saw in the MRI images – two small blood clots and a major clot that had moved to the primary artery supplying blood to the back of Nick’s brain.

Then the doctor presented the parents with the bleak options. The Brinkerhoffs asked him what he would do if his son were the one dying. He replied, “I’d do the Hail Mary.”

Before the surgery, the parents brought Nick’s brother and 14-year-old sister, Amanda, into the operating room. “They said their goodbyes,” Dwight says.

“It was the hardest, and most surreal experience in my entire life,” DJ wrote on the blog.

As surprised as the doctors had been to find the clot, they were even more astounded when Nick survived and continued to improve. Nick remained in a coma for five weeks before he began to wake up, and another four before he was fully alert. Days later he spoke for the first time.

He was frightened. “When he got his voice back, he asked, ‘Why can’t I move? What’s happened to me?’ ” Dwight recalls. Nick remained in the hospital until late September, when he was able to return home. He has worked strenuously and with determination, Dwight says. Nick’s treatment also has included an alternative approach involving repeated use of a  hyperbaric chamber.

Dwight says his son has recovered about 85 percent of his cognitive ability and continues to work on his physical skills. He returned to his eighth-grade classroom last year.

Nick in bedIn a blog entry last September, Dwight wrote: “We went from saying ‘goodbye’ to him to now laughing with him and witnessing his miraculous recovery – I feel truly blessed to be part of it. Why God has chosen our family for this testimony I don’t exactly know, but I’m beginning to say, why not?”

Progress has slowed from the earlier dramatic improvements, which has frustrated Nick, but the family remains hopeful for his continued improvement. They try to remind him of the slow steady progress of a tortoise.

Still, coping with the tragedy has been difficult, taking a financial and emotional toll on the family as well. The support of Community Covenant Church www.communitycovenantchurch.org and others has helped to ease the burdens and strengthen the family’s faith, Dwight says.

A golf tournament organized by church members was held January 11. It drew 110 participants and raised $21,000.  “It well exceeded our greatest expectations,” Dwight says. “That was just phenomenal.”

The golf tournament came about when the Brinkerhoffs needed to purchase a used specially fitted van that would help transport Nick back and forth to therapy. “I remember telling Dwight to just get it and we would work out how to pay it off,” says Bob Vildibill, who chaired the tournament and is a fellow church member.

The tournament proceeds paid off the van and are helping to pay for therapies not covered by insurance, Vildibill says.

The doctors have told Dwight that Nick’s story will continue to be told – they expect to write a paper related to the case.

Editor’s note: The top photo shows the family (from left): Amanda, Nick, Dwight, Lisa, DJ, Connor (in mother’s arms). The lower photo was taken shortly after Nick was admitted.

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