Alex Cabrera was leaving school on a sunny day near the end of his eighth grade year when he was hit by a car. The Waltham native had to be air lifted to Tufts Medical Center and by morning was undergoing life-saving brain surgery.
It was an agonizing few hours followed by weeks of follow up care including physical therapy, but Alex was able to start high school on time. His mother, Jenny Cabrera, calls it a miracle.
“I never gave up,” Jenny says. And neither did the doctors or nurses who supported Jenny while they cared for Alex. “Everyone was amazing. As they talked to me, everyone was so positive. I’m so blessed that we went to that hospital.”
An Accident after School
As an eighth grader, Alex was outgoing and athletic. He was in track and spent a lot of time on his skate board pushing the limits of gravity. His mother believes all the falls while practicing tricks may have helped when he was hit by the car. Witnesses said he was thrown 35 feet. Although he had a serious head injury, he had no broken bones and only two scratches.
Jenny’s voice still waivers as she describes the accident even a year later. She didn’t realize as she rushed to the school just how serious his injury was. By the time they reached the hospital, she was nearly in shock.
A Night of Suspense
The support from the staff, nurses and doctors Tufts Medical Center Emergency Department helped her make it through those early anxious hours as Alex was sedated to see if the swelling around his brain would go down.
That’s when Jenny met James Kryzanski, MD, a neurosurgeon at the Tufts Medical Center Neurosurgery Department. Dr. Kryzanski and his team of doctors and nurses took the time to comfort Jenny and tell her what was happening.
It wasn’t so much what they said, but how they said it that made a difference, Jenny says.
“I never heard anything negative,” she relates. “They were so supportive and they always gave me hope.”
Jenny stayed at her son’s bedside through the night and by early morning, it was clear that Alex needed surgery. Dr. Krazanski had to remove a part of his skull to ease the pressure of his swelling brain. That part of his skull wouldn’t be replaced until more than a month later as Alex recovered.
The surgery took place in a state-of-the-art operating room with equipment that moves on booms, which allows surgeons to work more quickly. There are also high definition screens so surgeons can see a patient’s CAT Scan and MRI during the operation.
Alex’s Successful Surgery and His Road to Recovery
While nurses and doctors monitored Alex, the Tufts Medical Center staff provided Jenny with her own room so she could remain at her son’s side.
“They got me food, found me things I needed to take showers and assured me he was going to be okay,” she says. “That gave me the confidence to believe that he was going to be okay.”
As Alex emerged from a coma several days later, the staff had to explain to him what had happened. He couldn’t talk and he couldn’t move well. Very soon after a physical therapist and occupational therapist came to him and developed a long term treatment plan.
The physical therapist and occupational therapist worked closely with a child life specialist to find ways to help Alex adapt to wearing a helmet and being in the hospital while he relearned basic skills.
“There is an additional challenge with children because you have to make them want to do it,” says physical therapist Nikki Guerin. “It’s all about setting goals for them, like being able to skateboard.”
After three weeks, Alex was able to leave the hospital with a very relieved mother. His hair has grown back hiding the scar from the surgery, and there is little evidence that he was injured so gravely. He has had a few seizures, but they’re under control with medication.
“I’m just so grateful for everything that everyone did,” Jenny says. “My son is a miracle.”