On March 17, 2016, Ethan was hit by a truck while walking home from piano lessons. Melanie’s earliest memory at the Alberta Children’s Hospital that day was the social worker who stayed by her side as specialists rushed to save her son’s life. Once Ethan was stable enough to even survive an MRI, his parents received some terrible news. His brain was covered in lesions and he wasn’t expected to live. Beyond the horrific injury to his brain, Ethan also suffered a severed urethra and 10 fractures – six in his pelvis and four in his skull.
Ethan was in the PICU for about three weeks with what was suspected to be severe brain damage – he was going to live, but could very well spend the rest of his life in a vegetative state. He was in a coma, had a catheter in his bladder, was intubated and was suffering from dystonia – (meaning muscles in his arms and legs were seizing up) and dysautonomia (meaning his autonomic nervous system was not functioning properly). Slowly but surely, Ethan began to show signs that he was determined to beat the odds. He would open his eyes and Melanie was convinced he recognized her. Later, after Ethan was stable enough to move to Unit 4, Dr. Burkholder was actually able to prove Melanie’s intuition true – he studied, charted and documented a difference in Ethan’s heart rate when Ethan heard Melanie’s voice. It was so exciting they recorded Melanie’s voice so if she couldn’t be in the room, Ethan could still hear her voice, which calmed him.
The road to recovery was incredibly challenging. Ethan began sitting in a wheelchair and though he couldn’t yet speak, he started pointing and interacting with the people around him. He worked hard with occupational, speech and physio therapists and with the support of his mom, who worked with specialists to train on his care, he was able to start going home on weekend passes much earlier than expected. He began laughing and then, about two months after the accident, answered “vanilla” when asked what his favourite food was. That same week, Melanie was overwhelmed with happiness when she walked into his room and Ethan had re-learned to say “I love mom.” He eventually moved from his wheelchair to a walker and over time, went from using it to walk just three steps between people to walking up to 2 km on his own.
After attending Gordon Townsend School here at the hospital, Ethan is now back at his own community school and is a smiley, outgoing kid. He continues to work on his speech and motor skills, but his comeback has been astounding. Melanie is incredibly grateful to the staff at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, especially Dr. Burkholder, physiatrist Dr. Vithya Gnanakumar, and neurologist Dr. Michael Esser, as well as the Child Life and Unit 4 teams, who ensured Ethan’s stays were as comfortable and even as fun as possible.