Car accident turns workplace into a healing space

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Five months after Lori Brandes started working at University Medical Center Brackenridge, a drunk driver sent her 18-year old daughter to the same Level I trauma center.

Lori’s daughter, Madison, a recent high school graduate, had just returned from freshman orientation at Texas Tech in Lubbock. Three of Madison’s friends gathered at the Brandes’ home to relax after being away.

It was a Sunday night. Lori was settling in and getting ready for the work week. She thought the girls were still downstairs hanging out when her phone rang.

“My phone is on the paging list and I saw a trauma alert come across my phone,” recalled Lori. “My boss was out of town so I paid a little more attention. I wondered if there was anything I needed to do.”

About 15 minutes later, Lori received a call from a social worker at UMC Brackenridge. Madison had been in a car accident. She was unconscious and transferred to the hospital.

The story emerged. The girls had decided to drive to P. Terry’s for milkshakes. They only made it a mile or two from home. While waiting to turn left from Slaughter Lane onto North Mopac, a drunk driver slammed into their car.

Madison was sitting in the front passenger seat and sustained severe head trauma. All four girls and the driver of the other car were taken to UMC Brackenridge.

“Immediately I thought, ‘Who do I know at the hospital? Who can I call while we’re en route? Who could tell me more about Madison? Who was caring for her?’ I’d only been at UMCB for a few months, and there were so many clinical staff I had never engaged with,” said Lori.

Two of Lori’s colleagues, Taya Murray and Kristina Walker, arrived at the emergency department to wait with the family. When Lori was finally allowed to see Madison, she noticed how busy and focused the team was as they took care of her daughter.

Dr. James Rose, the neurosurgeon on the case, explained that Madison needed immediate surgery to relieve the bleeding and pressure in her head. The swelling and bleeding continued, and Madison returned to a second surgery almost immediately.

“With brain injuries, we usually anticipate and treat what I call the second accident,” said Dr. Rose. “After the brain has been injured, secondary injuries such as blood clots and swelling present themselves. In Madison’s case, as soon as we removed one clot, another would develop. All together, she endured three surgeries within a 24-hour period.”

The following morning Madison underwent a third craniotomy. This time the doctors took out a bone flap on the left side of Madison’s skull to allow the swelling to resolve. The bleeding finally stopped.

For the next two weeks, Lori’s workplace became a healing space as well. The whole Brandes family – Lori, her husband James, and their son, Bradley – remained at the hospital during Madison’s stay. The hospital staff allowed them to use a refrigerator and a shower in the mother and baby unit.

After 10 days on a ventilator, providers were able to remove Madison’s nasogastric feeding tube and replace it with a tracheostomy and PEG tube. For the first time since the accident, Madison was less sedated, and began getting out of bed and following simple commands.

The only memory Madison has from her time at UMC Brackenridge is walking in the hallway with her physical therapist. However, Lori has many comforting memories.

“We lived at the hospital for 15 days,” said Lori. “Madison’s recovery would have been so much harder without the kindness and compassion of my colleagues. All the nurses, even those not directly caring for Madison, asked us how she was doing, how we were doing, and did we need anything. Everyone went above and beyond for us.”

Madison improved rapidly. Only three months post-accident, Madison was back together in one piece. She no longer needs the protective helmet she wore to safeguard the missing bone flap on her head.

The recovery continues though. Madison struggles with aphasia, making it difficult to find words and write. Reading paragraphs is difficult; texting short messages is easier. Each day, she works with a speech therapist.

Madison’s admission at Texas Tech is on hold until fall 2015. In the meantime, Madison keeps busy with her puppy, Gracie Rose. The dog’s name is credited to the grace of God that allowed Madison to survive, and Dr. Rose, whose hands helped repair her injuries.

“I am so thankful for the care we were given. And so thankful we have a Level 1 Trauma Center in Austin,” said Lori. “I know Madison is alive because of prayer and the team of professionals at UMC Brackenridge.”

Lori is easing back to work as she juggles Madison’s doctor and therapy appointments. She is grateful to Seton for providing flexibility and meeting her needs as an employee and mother.


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