UF Health pediatric neurosurgery team saves Rylan from traumatic brain injury.
It was about 8 a.m. on March 20, 2019, when Rylan Lord took his family’s ATV out for a drive. He was riding at a leisurely pace on the dirt road of their 7-acre property in Dixie County, only about 50 yards from his house, when he overcorrected a turn. The vehicle suddenly flipped and landed on top of Rylan’s head.
Still conscious, the 14-year-old knew he needed to seek help quickly. Even though he was badly injured, Rylan managed to get out from underneath the machine. He knew something was wrong with his left eye because he was seeing double, but he closed it and walked to his house.
“The door slammed open, and I just knew something was wrong,” said Rylan’s mother, Erin. “When I saw him, his head was bleeding profusely. I immediately got him to the couch and put a towel over his head to apply pressure and try to stop the bleeding. It looked like he had lost his eye.”
Erin called 911 and then continued to ask her son questions to keep him awake.
“The ambulance got there in a matter of minutes, but it felt like forever,” Erin said.
Dixie County paramedics Alison Stevens and Roy Maggard called for a helicopter to take Rylan to UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. The family lived about an hour and a half from UF Health, and Stevens and Maggard knew that Rylan did not have much time. The paramedics put Rylan in an induced coma, and UF Health ShandsCair airlifted him from Old Town to Gainesville. Erin and Rylan’s father, Jon, drove to the hospital even though they did not want to leave their son.
“I remember Alison telling me, ‘Trust me. I’ll treat him like he’s mine. Just go,’ and so we did,” Erin said.
When Rylan arrived in Gainesville, doctors told his parents he did not have much time because of the trauma his brain had suffered. He was rushed to surgery, where pediatric neurosurgeon Jason Blatt, M.D., operated to eliminate the bleeding occurring between the tough outer membrane covering the brain and the skull. This injury is referred to as an epidural hematoma.
The surgery was successful at stopping the bleeding and alleviating the pressure on Rylan’s brain, but now it was a waiting game. Rylan’s injury had led to multiple skull and facial fractures, four other smaller bleeds and bruises all around his brain. Doctors did not know what condition he would be in when he woke up or how his brain would function.
Three days after the surgery, Rylan emerged from the coma.
“The best possible scenario happened,” Erin said. “While he suffered loss of vision in his left eye, he was going to be OK. Dr. Blatt told us that everyone from the EMS providers to the physicians to the nurses did everything perfectly to save Rylan’s life.”
Rylan spent the next week in the intensive care unit at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital and then was transferred to a regular room for a little over a week. After three weeks in the hospital, Rylan was cleared to return home and go to a rehab center. By the time he left the hospital, he was already having conversations with his family and care team and walking short distances with his therapists. However, he had mild residual weakness on his right side from the epidural hematoma, which was cured in rehab.
Rylan is getting better and stronger every day, but he still has more surgeries to go. In March, pediatric plastic surgeon Jessica Ching, M.D., will put a plate in his eye socket to correct his double vision, and after that, physicians will assess what needs to be done next.
Rylan and his family could not be more thankful for all of the providers, nurses and support staff who they have met along the way. Whenever they visit Blatt and the pediatric neurosurgery team, they are usually toting a large cake or other homemade treat as a token of their ongoing appreciation.
“We call Dr. Blatt ‘Uncle Jason.’ He’s part of our family now,” Erin said. “During this process, he has always put things in my terms. He has been like talking to my best friend. He always made me feel comfortable and made things relatable. He was a big part in saving my son’s life, and as far as I’m concerned, if he wants my right arm, he can have it.”
Rylan, now 15, said he is getting back to normal. While there are still some complications from the injury, he believes he is going to be OK, and he can deal with what he has to do.
“I wish I could describe (to everyone involved in my care) how thankful I am,” Rylan said. “They are all awesome and amazing.”