One patient’s story: my toddler’s head injury

Kate Gray is the mother of William, an active toddler whose serious fall almost ended in tragedy.

I call William my spirited child. Like many 3 year-olds, he loves to run and jump, and does it without the slightest sense of fear. His boundless energy has always been one of his most endearing features, but in a split second, it also almost took him from us forever.

Up, up and away! Like many toddlers, William is a ball of energy

A few days before Christmas, my husband Mark and I had some last minute holiday chores to do so we decided to beat the rush by heading out early in the morning. As we walked out the front door William and I were standing side by side, just inches from each other. Suddenly, he turned to go back towards the door and somehow lost his footing. He fell backwards off the steps and hit the back of his head on the brick walkway as he landed. As I scooped him up to quiet his crying, I didn’t see any sign of injury. No goose egg or bump, not even a scratch. In less than five minutes he had stopped crying and we had begun our busy day.

After our shopping was done, we began organizing and wrapping gifts while William watched one his favorite Christmas movies. But shortly after turning on the TV he started complaining that his head hurt. Mark went to check on him, and within minutes poor William was vomiting everywhere. We put him in the bathtub to clean up and noticed how lethargic he was acting. He was so tired he even started to nod off right there in the tub.

All of a sudden that morning’s fall came back into our minds and we quickly got him dressed and headed off to the emergency room (ER) at MetroWest Hospital, to treat what we assumed was a concussion. The ER doctors ordered a CAT Scan, which revealed that his fall was far more serious; William had sustained a skull fracture and was bleeding on the right side of his brain. To best treat the injury the staff said William would need to be rushed to Children’s Hospital Boston. The transport crew was amazing and assured me that William’s vitals were good and the fact that he was alert and speaking were very good signs.

CAT scans can help doctors determine the extent of a head injury.

The ride seemed to take forever, but William was too consumed by the thrill of an ambulance ride to notice. When we walked through the doors there was a team of doctors waiting. Dr. Liliana Goumnerova quickly explained that William had an impressive blood clot that was pushing his brain about 2 cm, and to relieve the pressure they would need to take out a piece of his skull, then remove the clot. After that, William’s skull would be put back together and reinforced with a titanium plate.

We were able to say a few quick words to William before they sedated him and whisked him of to the operating room. Watching doctors and nurses wheel my baby away down a long hospital hall was unreal, like something out of a nightmare, and all I wanted to do was wake up.

After what seemed like weeks, Dr. Goumnerova approached us with a big smile, telling us how well the surgery went and that William was resting comfortably. When we were allowed to see him it was quite a shock to see his tiny head wrapped with white gauze and IV lines poking into both arms. But as soon as he opened his eyes all our trepidation melted away, giving way to swells of relief. The nurses gave us the okay to climb in bed with him and as we held each other, the realization of how incredibly lucky we were finally hit me.

Mom and son, reunited after surgery

We spent the next day and night in the hospital while William was carefully monitored. A repeat CAT scan showed his brain was back to where it needed to be and the bleeding had stopped. Just 24 hours after emergency brain surgery, we were on our home to celebrate Christmas. Needless to say, as we opened presents we knew what our true gift had been.

Today, William is back to his old self. He’s running, jumping and is as spirited as ever. Occasionally he talks about his “boo-boo,” but seems otherwise unfazed about the ordeal that almost killed him. When I think about that day I am forever grateful to the doctors and nurses who saved my son. People who were strangers to me that morning became some of the most important people in my life by sundown. I can never thank them enough for their dedication and will never forget what they did for my family.


Check out Thrive’s 2010 wrap up: author reflections and our favorite stories of the past year

3 thoughts on “One patient’s story: my toddler’s head injury

  1. We are students in Ms. Smothers’ 7th grade science class and we are interested in learning about this hospital. We are so glad that Willliam is doing well and that he received the proper care he needed at the perfect time. We wish William a very happy New Year. Thank you for sharing his story.

    1. Thank you! William is recovering and doing well and we have the Doctors and Nurses at Children’s Hospital to thank. Truly some of the most amazing people I have ever met!

  2. I’m so glad to hear that your son is back to his old self.  I was thrust into the world of Traumatic Brain Injury back in 1997 when my then 4-year old daughter was hit in the head during a car accident.  She spent 3 months in the hospital, and when she came home to us she could not walk, talk, see correctly, think clearly, and her personality became very dulled. She was quiet and stared into space a lot.  I missed my original daughter so much!    It took many years of rehabilitation to get her to where she could do simple functions again.  She never fully recovered.  She’s 18 years old now, and despite her limitations  she’s doing quite well.  We are so proud of her strength. Although I am very grateful that she is still here with us,  I still miss the “old her” and I believe I always will.  Brain injuries are the worst!

    They All Call Me Mom

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