Surviving a Brain Injury and Coming Back Strong

When Susan arrived at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, emergency physician Dr. Chris Flynn told her that Jorden, then 15, suffered a severe skull fracture after falling off his skateboard at a high speed. He was unconscious, and he had bleeding around the brain.

 

Earlier that evening of June 22, Jorden and his teenage friends were celebrating the end of school for summer break. After attending a party, Jorden and Benito Najera were skateboarding downhill on a dark street in Montecito, not far from the Tuthill home. Neither of the boys was wearing a helmet or other protective gear. Four other friends—Ethan Terry, Nick Dealy, Trey Barrett, and Garrett Davis—were following behind them in a vehicle to light the way. 

 

Suddenly, Jorden fell backwards and hit his head on the pavement. The other boys hurried to help, but Jorden stood up immediately and said he felt fine. His friends, however, knew something was seriously wrong when Jorden said he could not see out of his right eye. 

 

 

Jorden Tuthill (third from left) and his friends (from left) Ethan Terry, Trey Barrett, Nick Dealy, Benito Najera,
and Garret Davis.

 

Without hesitation, and despite Jorden’s protests, the boys rushed to the emergency room at Cottage. They arrived just in time. As they entered the doors, Jorden lost consciousness.

The Cottage trauma team moved into action quickly to assess Jorden’s condition. A CT scan revealed that he had sustained a midline skull fracture from the back of his head to his sinus area. 

Jorden’s father, Bill Tuthill, praised the trauma team for its quick response. “Cottage has such a good system in place, so that no time was lost in a case where a few minutes can make a huge difference.”

 

Neurosurgeon Dr. Thomas Jones noted that Jorden’s injury was “as bad as it can get.” Within hours of Jorden’s arrival at Cottage, Dr. Jones performed surgery. He removed a portion of Jorden’s skull to relieve the pressure on the brain, and the fragment was put into the boy’s abdomen to keep the bone alive for reattachment later on.  
A helmet may have prevented Jorden's injury from being so serious.  Learn more here.


The following morning, however, a CT scan showed that the bleeding had spread into an area of the brain that doctors call a surgical “no man’s land” because it’s so precarious to access. At one point, Dr. Jones considered airlifting Jorden to UCLA Medical Center, because Cottage’s specialist for neuroendovascular surgery, Dr. Alois Zauner, was out of the country at the time. 

But Susan and Bill said they felt confident that Jorden, their only child, would receive the best care at Cottage. 

“We wanted Jorden to stay here, and it was important to us to stay in the community near the support of our friends. We had a lot of confidence in Dr. Jones and this hospital,” Susan recalled. “In fact, when we talked with UCLA Medical Center, they told us ‘stay where you are, because you’re exactly where you should be for the care that Jorden needs.’”

With each passing hour critical to Jorden’s outcome, Dr. Jones and fellow neurosurgeon Dr. Richard Chung had no time to waste. They decided they would do a second surgery to try to stop the bleeding. 

Susan, Bill and Jorden’s friends waited for many hours in agonizing uncertainty. and finally when the surgeons finished, they announced that they had accomplished their goal. In the following 24 hours, it was clear that Jorden was on the road to recovery. After a week, he was out of bed and walking.

Jorden, who just completed his  junior year at Santa Barbara High School, can’t remember any details of the accident and his immediate care, but he shares his gratitude.
 
“I’m really thankful for my friends’ quick decision-making,” he said. “And I want to thank all the doctors and nurses. Cottage Children’s Hospital is a great place.” 

The memory is clear for Susan: “his recovery was so thorough and rapid. he’s living the normal life of a 16-year-old. . .  Jorden’s friends are our angels who allowed the miracle to happen. And Cottage is an amazing hospital that saved his life.”

Dr. Jones simply says, “I call this an example of everything happening as well as it could have happened,” he said. “And Jorden chose the right friends.”

BY MARIA ZATE / PHOTOGRAPHS BY GLENN DUBOCK
 

Read other stories from the Summer 2009 Cottage Magazine here.