By Angel Wyrwas
The story played out like an unbelievable movie plot with community members waiting in the wings, praying, hoping and holding their breath. Two ten-year olds from Baker were involved in severe accidents this past spring within barely a month of each other. Chance Follmer, son of Chad Follmer and Christy Follmer, and Kennedy Lyson, daughter of Dereck Lyson and Britney Lyson would each have the fight of their lives.
On April 30, Chance was riding his dirt bike, a KIX 110, on Lyson’s property east of Baker. “I was going about 20 miles per hour,” said Chance, “when the throttle got stuck. I couldn’t get to the kill switch in time and ran into the foundation of the house.”
Chance said it was ‘lights out’. Even though he was wearing a helmet, Chance sustained a traumatic brain injury. “I don’t remember anything for a long time after that,” he said.
After being ambulanced to Baker, Chance and his parents were life-flighted to Denver Children’s Hospital. He remained in a coma for four and a half days. “We were in the ICU,” said Christy, “and the doctors told us to keep our expectations to a minimum.”
Chance has a Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI). “Basically,” explained Christy, “The left side of his brain slammed into the right side causing damage.”
DAI is one of the most common and devastating types of traumatic brain injury and is a major cause of unconsciousness and persistent vegetative state after severe head trauma. It occurs in about half of all cases of severe head trauma and may be the primary damage that occurs in concussion. The outcome is frequently coma, with over 90% of patients with severe DAI never regaining consciousness. Those who do wake up often remain significantly impaired.
“The doctors assessed Chance at a number two DAI,” said Christy, “and a number three is a vegetative state.”
Then Chance woke up. He had no movement on his left side. Chance was moved from ICU to the neuropsych floor to begin the arduous task of healing and eventually rehabilitation. “I couldn’t watch TV,” said Chance. “Not for awhile. And I had a feeding tube. I even had to stay in a Posey bed so I didn’t fall out.”
After intense physical and occupational therapy, Chance was released from the hospital to continue several weeks of outpatient rehabilitation. After 46 days in Denver and a lot of hard work, Chance was able to come home.
“I am a straight A student,” said Chance, “but I still struggle a little with my left side strength. I will never play contact sports but I can ride my dirt bike in two years and that’s exciting.”
“He has no filter as a result of the accident,” said Christy, “so we are still working on that. But he has come so far you almost wouldn’t know he had a brain injury.”
“I learned that I come from a pretty amazing family and community too,” said Chance. He started this school year with shorter school days but is happy to report that he is attending full time once more. Though he will continue with therapy for a while yet, Chance’s prognosis is quite miraculous.
While Chance was busy healing in Denver, Kennedy was in Baker helping her grandma at the fairgrounds during the High School Rodeo. On June 7, Kids and Horses 4-H club met at her house south of Baker. While her and her mom were waiting for the other kids to come, they took her horse, JB, out to the tree patch for a walk. When they got back, they saddled JB to start the riding exercise.
“I was trying to back him through the path,” said Kennedy, “but he really wasn’t liking it. My mom told me to walk him forward through it so I did. The next time through, he reared up and lost his balance, falling backward on top of me.”
As the 1200 lb horse fell back onto Kennedy, the saddle horn had slammed into her stomach. No one knew that day that Kennedy would be in for the fight for her life. “I didn’t cry,” said Kennedy, “I didn’t think I was in that much pain.”
Fallon Medical Complex performed a CT scan, which revealed Kennedy had some internal fluids. She was life-flighted to St. Vincent Hospital in Billings. “We arrived about midnight and the doctor said they would just make her comfortable and figure out something in the morning,” said Britney.
But in the next breath, a team of people were taking Kennedy into surgery. “There was a shooting that night in Billings and the hospital was crazy,” said Britney. It was another two hours before she would see Kennedy.
In the early morning hours the doctor revealed that there was a five-inch tear to the mesentery lining of the small intestine. It had to be fixed. “The doctor said usually she would leave the patient open for a bit to make sure there was no infection but she thought Kennedy looked good so she stitched her up,” said Britney.
Kennedy spent eight days in the hospital trying to feel better but vomited constantly and had high fevers. Yet they released her to come home on June 15 because she had not thrown up since the day before.
She came home and spent the week with her dad. Kennedy could still eat very little and was vomiting. “We went to Miles City and they told us it was probably the flu,” said Britney. They finally admitted her to the hospital. She began to decline rapidly and an x-ray showed what the hospital believed to be a blockage in her bowels.
“They sent us home, saying sometimes that would happen after a surgery like hers,” said Britney. Kennedy couldn’t eat anything and she couldn’t keep anything down. “I was home for maybe a half hour,” said Kennedy, “when I stood up from the couch and doubled over from the pain.”
She was ground ambulanced back to Billings. “They admitted her again and said they would observe her overnight,” said Britney, “but this was three weeks since the surgery and I knew they needed to do something. I told them they had 24 hours to figure out something or I wanted them to send us out.”
Luckily, Kennedy’s doctor had been in contact with Salt Lake Primary’s Children’s Hospital. Convinced that her situation was very serious, Kennedy was life-flighted to Utah. “They met us at the door, took her right to a CT scan and came back with the news that her bowel wasn’t blocked, it was perforated,” said Britney.
Kennedy was rushed into surgery where doctors removed ten inches of her small intestine. They removed the infection, closed the fascia but left her skin open this time to keep tabs on any infection.
“The nurse told me she was so glad we fought to bring her when we did or she wouldn’t have made it,” said Britney.
Unfortunately this would not be the end of Kennedy’s battle. In the days ahead, her health continued to fail. Blood transfusions, IV nutrition, nothing was working. The doctors found immense infection throughout Kennedy’s abdomen. Now in ICU, she would be opened back up several times over the next week to be washed out and kept in a coma during the process of combating the infection. Ten days later they were finally seeing some success.
“I remember watching the fireworks for Pioneer Days on July 24th,” said Kennedy, “after I got moved out of ICU.” Walking was excruciating but Kennedy hit physical therapy hard. “I just needed to get home, I knew I would get better there.”
Britney took a two-day class to learn to care for Kennedy and she got her wish to come home at the end of July. There was still a lot of healing to do though.
Kennedy came home with IV antibiotics and TPN nutrition to sustain her. And her 5-inch incision was left to close naturally with the aid of a wound vac so her dressings also needed regular changes. “My mom was a good nurse,” said Kennedy.
She has recently been able to ditch the PICC line which allowed her to completely immerse herself in water for the first time in months and that made her a very happy girl. Kennedy is also attending school full time again. “I’m back to myself,” she said, “and I only have a few small scars. It wasn’t a good experience but I met lots of cool people.”
In an amazing turn-about for both of these brave fifth graders, one thing seems to run true for Chance and Kennedy…their families, their doctors and nurses, and their community are rejoicing in their recoveries.