Living with a Brain Injured Child

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March 20, 2024
Cassandra’s Story
November 9, 2023

Living with a Brain Injured Child

Did you know that March is “National Brain Injury Awareness” month?  Unless you have a child or family member with a brain injury it’s unlikely you know there even is a “month” set aside for such awareness.

I am more than aware because my son, Travis, was run over by a car when he was 4 years old.  The driver was on prescription meds and distracted by her baby in the back seat.  Travis was outside with his friends, sisters and neighbor children.  We lived in a cul-de-sac, I thought we were safe.

That day will forever be etched in my memory. I was on the phone when I heard my daughter, Cari, scream, “Travis is dead!” I ran out the door and helped lift the car off his precious little 4-year-old body. It’s true what they say about strength in a crisis.

I rode to the hospital in the ambulance with him and cursed when other drivers wouldn’t pull over. I listened as the doctors told me he probably would not survive the surgery and if he did, he might be permanently brain injured.  I just told them to fix whatever was wrong and left the room. He was in surgery for more than 6 hours that day and they told me they didn’t know what to fix first.

He was in a coma for 4 days after surgery. To me it was a lifetime. We had to talk to him constantly because they believed it would help him come out of his coma. We talked about everything and nothing.  The first thing he did as he was coming out of the coma was to kiss the air. We fought each other over that railing so we could kiss and be kissed by him.  We couldn’t have been more grateful that day.

The hospital staff put a picture of him in his bed so he could see what he looked like because his head was so swollen and unrecognizable.  His little body was so torn and broken that I thought he would never heal, but his body did the best it could.  He lost his spleen so he is more likely to develop infections and his brain is not the same. It isn’t as bad as they predicted but he has been left with permanent learning disabilities.

Travis wore a helmet for the first year to protect his brain where there was no skull. It was amazing to witness how cruel people could be – and, also how kind. We watched as he crawled around on the floor because he wasn’t able to walk after the injury.  He had to relearn so many things including feeding himself, that I wondered if he would ever get “back up” to his chronological age.  He lost the ability to hear in one ear only to get it back and then lose it in the other, then lose it in both.  Fortunately, his hearing is fine now.  He went from being a precocious little boy who could speak complete sentences by the age of One to a child with all kinds of learning disabilities and special education classes needed as he grew up.  He was very limited in his play activities and had to wear his helmet from the time he got up until he went to bed.  It was a child’s football helmet because that was all that was available back then. It was way too big for him and we had to put inserts inside to keep it on. As he improved he wanted to do more and he was constantly at odds with us when we wouldn’t let him play like the other kids did.  He loved to swim and because he couldn’t wear his helmet while in the water I cringed every time he went into the pool.  We had to give away his favorite dog for fear the animal would jump on him and knock him down.  He was a German shepherd who loved Travis and loved to swim with him.   

I remember once trying to help him put his shoe on and as he leaned against the wall his head started bleeding. He had just had a bath so we didn’t have his helmet on but after that he had to put it on as soon as he got out of the tub.  We rushed him to the hospital for the umpteenth time and they said his brain was fine. 

He was my baby and still is, although he would cringe if he heard me say it (unless he wants something). I am one of the lucky ones and so is he. I know what it’s like to almost lose a child and then dread the thought of what life will be like as the result of a car crash. 

We learned, and maybe are still learning, to take each day as it comes and hope for the best.  Travis was in and out of hospitals for the first year and the doctors and nurses were amazing.  You can still see the scar on his head where his skull was replaced and to me, it is a constant reminder of how lucky we are that he made it. 

Please remember to always make sure your child wears a helmet when on a bicycle, is seat belted into the car, looks both ways before crossing, and for good measure please hold their hand. 

We can’t always protect our children, but we can do our best.    For more information on brain injuries caused by car crashes, please visit our partner, the National Road Safety Foundation.

Because I care . . . . Candace Lightner

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