Nature can be beautiful. The green grass and trees after a long winter or the changing colors of the leaves during the fall. But as beautiful as nature can be, it also can be destructive.
As 12-year-old Brooke Lucas and her mother Angelica DelGado of Boalsburg were on their way to a local parade where Brooke was to perform with her baton group, nature caused life-threatening circumstances.
Only minutes away from their home, a severe July thunderstorm with high winds caused a tree branch to crash down on top of their car, trapping them both inside. The branch landed on the roof and then slid down the windshield onto the hood of the car, causing the roof to cave.
“I heard this big boom. I probably blacked out for a few minutes,” Angelica said. “The next thing I remember was opening my eyes and hearing the dinging from the car, like when you leave your door open.”
Although disoriented, Angelica’s first reaction was to check on her daughter.
“Once I realized we were in an accident and I saw the tree, I began calling Brooke’s name. I was pinned down and I couldn’t move,” Angelica said. “Finally I could see her hand and I grabbed it and kept calling her. A few minutes later I heard Brooke say, ‘Mom?’ I said, ‘Its okay. Help is coming. We were in an accident.”
When Brooke awoke, she surveyed the situation for herself.
“We had a little compartment in the roof of the car and it came down, so I turned my head to see it and it did hurt a little bit,” she said. “The way my uniform was and the way I was sitting, I couldn’t feel my right arm. It was tingling but I could still move it.”
“When people see the pictures from the accident, they wonder how we survived,” Angelica added.
Emergency medical technicians extracted Brooke and her mother from the vehicle and took them to their local community hospital for immediate response. Angelica suffered a lower back fracture and compression of her spine. Brooke’s injuries were a bit more serious and doctors determined that she needed to be taken to Geisinger’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital for specialized pediatric care. Angelica also was taken to Geisinger for care of her injuries.
The pediatric trauma team determined that Brooke had fractured her T2 and T7 vertebrae and had a dislocated vertebrae that required immediate attention. Dr. David Andreychik, an associate in the department of orthopedic surgery, was on hand for Brooke’s initial admission.
“I actually remember the night because it was extremely windy,” Dr. Andreychik said. “Brooke sustained several spinal fractures. She had a cervical fracture and several upper thoracic fractures. The upper thoracic fractures were stable but the cervical fracture was an unstable injury. It was putting pressure on nerves going into her arm.”
Dr. Andreychik determined that surgery would be the best option to treat Brooke’s most unstable injury.
“In the hospital, I remember going into surgery,” Brooke said. “My dad was with me. He asked if I wanted to know what they were going to do or if I just wanted to go through it. I told him I just wanted to do it.”
The surgery was a spinal fusion and stabilization, according to Dr. Andreychik.
“The simplest way to do this surgery is from the front. It might seem really strange to operate on the spine from the front of the neck, but it’s a lot less traumatic and a lot less painful then going into the back,” he said.
“When I woke up, my throat hurt and the only thing I could eat that made my throat feel better were ice chips,” Brooke said. “I couldn’t drink anything at all.”
Since her mother was in the hospital for her injuries at the same time as her, Brooke’s older sister Taylor stayed with her for the majority of her time in the hospital. Because of the medications Brooke was taking for pain, she slept most of the time.
“One time she was so tired and we were talking and she started snoring with her eyes open,” 15-year-old Taylor said with a chuckle. “I stayed with Brooke most of the time. When the nurses and doctors came in the room, everything was explained and they would tell me what they were doing and kept me updated.”
Carol Hanson, Pediatric Trauma Coordinator, was on hand for Brooke’s admission and most of her stay in the pediatric trauma center.
“I’m sure for her it was very scary to have to lay totally flat in bed or not move without help. Also knowing her mother was injured as well caused a lot of family stress during that time,” Hanson said. “Brooke had a 5-day stay in the hospital following her surgery.”
Brooke’s father was able to come and spend some time with her and there was a lot of family coming in from the area, Hanson said.
“Part of what we were doing was trying to make sure we had housing or places for the family to stay as they were coming in from out of the area. So that was part of the challenge,” Hanson said.
Right after the surgery Brooke needed to wear a neck brace when she was in bed and a body brace when she was out of bed, but she was able to go back to school at the end of September.
“Generally it takes six months for the fusion to become solid but recovery goes rather quickly,” Dr. Andreychik said. “Patients are able to do basic tasks immediately and their activity increases with time. In Brooke’s case, she had other fractures in her thoracic spine which we needed to brace and she had a really cumbersome brace on for three months.”
Dr. Andreychik remembers Brooke’s case very well.
“She was a really great kid,” he said. “She never complained about anything even with what she went through. I was very impressed with her.”
Hanson said that the pediatric trauma department appreciates the community giving through Children’s Miracle Network at Geisinger. In the state there are only six pediatric trauma centers, and Janet Weis Children’s Hospital has one of them.
“We cover 42 counties and have six Life Flight® helicopters,” Hanson said. “We work closely with community hospitals and local EMS. Our goal is to provide the absolute best quality care we can for our injured kids.”
Reports say that injury is the biggest killer of children under the age of 18 and about one in four kids every year gets injured to the point they need medical care.
“Being able to have a trauma center and have the facilities and specialists therein to help children and to be able to meet their needs, discharge them and send them home or back to school is very important,” Hanson said. “We appreciate the support from Children’s Miracle Network.”
Not even a year from her injury, Brooke is back to twirling her baton and taking part in all the activities she was able to perform before the accident. The family is very pleased with the care that Angelica and Brooke received during their stay at Geisinger. Brooke’s mother summed their experience up with a simple statement.
“They are awesome down there,” she said.