From sinus infection to brain surgery: Gabe regains his life
It is a vision that nightmares are made of. Driving along Highway 401 in the wee hours of the morning while up ahead in the dark sky are the flashing lights of a medical helicopter on its way to the hospital with your child clinging to life. The feeling, as Gabe Truant’s mom Krista describes it, is utterly surreal.
It all started off with what seemed to be a common cold. Gabe, then 13, stayed home for a couple of days before returning to classes in his hometown of Amherstburg.
“So he went back to school and mid-morning his teacher called and said that Gabe was not acting himself; could I come and pick him up,” recalls Krista. “He was sitting outside the principal’s office and he couldn’t put on his backpack, and when we got to the car he couldn’t do up his seatbelt. Things weren’t right and he just kept clicking his cellphone on and off.”
When they got home she called 911 right away.
“Gabe was lying on his side on the couch, he grabbed my hand and his eyes glazed over. He was trying to speak but was not verbal, and then he threw up.”
When the ambulance arrived his vital signs seemed normal.
“Nevertheless, they wanted to take him to the hospital in Windsor. I was following behind the ambulance and suddenly the ambulance lights and sirens came on,” says Krista.
Back in the ambulance Gabe was having a grand mal seizure, something he’s never had before.
A number of tests were done over the following days but the results didn’t show any conclusive diagnosis and Gabe’s condition was worsening.
“We could see Gabe deteriorating, and the decision was made to send him by Ornge helicopter to LHSC’s Children’s Hospital,” says Krista.
He was brought to the Paediatric Critical Care Unit (PCCU) where Krista and Gabe’s dad Rick met them.
“I gave Gabe my hand and he was twirling my wedding ring. He couldn’t open his eyes, but I knew that this provided a comfort to him, that he knew I was there,” says Krista.
Gabe’s brain was swelling and the medical team needed to relieve the pressure in his brain. Time was of the essence.
As Krista explains it, the neurosurgeon and her team drilled three burr holes the size of quarters into his skull. However, the high intracranial pressure continued to get worse.
“They took off the right side bone flap of his skull and put in an artificial Dura (a tough outermost membrane) to cover his brain. They took off the other side the next day. Gabe was then put in a medically induced coma.”
Given his tenuous condition, the team told the family that he may not come out of the coma the same child as he came in, and if he did, he may have some physical and mental disability.
“Gabe was in a coma for two weeks and as parents those were the longest two weeks of our lives. They were at the point where medically that was all they could do,” says Krista.
When he came out of his coma Gabe couldn’t speak and his left side was paralyzed. Work began with physiotherapy and he started to respond right away.
As Krista puts it, “they deemed him a miracle.”
His diagnosis was intracranial sepsis subdural empyema right frontal cerebritis, a type of brain infection, likely caused by a sinus infection associated with his initial cold symptoms.
While he was in hospital, he was treated by a multi-disciplinary team that included a physiotherapist, dietitian, and speech language pathologist.
“The hardest part was coming out of the coma. I was intubated and couldn’t talk, and that was pretty scary not being able to tell people what I needed or how I was feeling,” says Gabe, now 15. “In terms of relearning to talk, it seemed like one day it came back. It’s not like when you’re a kid and still learning. It’s more like a dam that broke when it returned.”
Gabe also had to have surgery to replace the bone flaps that had initially been taken out to reduce the swelling.
“The expertise at LHSC’s Children’s Hospital is amazing and we knew Gabe was in the best of hands, as hard as it is as a parent to let go and hand over the reins,” says Rick. “Every day is changing, you’ve got to take and celebrate the small things.”
Krista agrees. “We felt so helpless. The surgeons, the care team, all those who helped Gabe regain his life, we put his life and ours in their hands.”
The PCCU team was awesome, she says. “The nurses would call after their shift when he’d had surgery to see how he was doing. Some still stay in touch. The whole hospital is incredible, from the cleaning staff to those delivering the food, it was so friendly.”
After 77 days, Gabe was discharged from hospital. He continues his physical recovery at home and while he lost a year at school, Gabe is on the honor roll in high school.
It can take a long time for the bones to mend together as Gabe is still growing. This unfortunately means that Gabe can’t yet play baseball and other sports and activities like he used to, which is tough for him.
Gabe’s advice to teens who may be in hospital over a longer period of time?
“Just take it one day at a time. If you think too far into the future it isn’t helpful. People think if something good happens they can go home really soon, but it takes time. Take it day to day.”