Dell Children's helping patients overcoming adversity

Doctors at Dell Children's Medical Center see all sorts of injuries and when terrible tragedies turn into miracles the doctors and nurses remember why their work is so important.

Dell Children's is a Level One Trauma Center and as one, it sees some pretty bad injuries. Injuries like the one DJ Richardson experienced. He arrived with an injury doctors thought would take away his ability to do anything for himself.

The Richardson family echoes a feeling felt by many families during the holidays. 

"All our prayers have been answered. There's no way we could ask for anything more," Dale and Marlene Richardson say.

But to understand why the Richardsons are so thankful you first have to understand everything they went through since September of last year. While out on Lake Travis a day before their son's birthday things went terribly wrong.

DJ fell off an inner tube and hit a boulder underwater head on. He fractured his skull and broke his neck. 

STAR Flight arrived tand took DJ to Dell Children's. Doctors stabilized him and gave the Dale and Marlene a prognosis that no parent ever wants to hear: that DJ would most likely be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life.

Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Luke Tomycz examined DJ and says he immediately knew DJ's injuries were critical.

"I remember painting a pretty potentially grim picture for the family just saying we don't know how he's going to do. He's not really moving his arms or legs at all at this point and there was some indication that he had what we call incomplete spinal cord injury," Dr. Tomycz says.

Dr. Tomycz says DJ had a epidural hematoma which is when blood collects inside the skull but outside the brain that causes brain tissue to compress. The second injury was a fractured dislocation of the cervical spine at C3 and 4.

Once the spine was stabilized, Dr. Tomycz started the first of two surgeries on DJ. First on the brain and then on his spine. Each surgery took between six and eight hours.

A third surgery was needed to supplement the work that was done on DJ's spine.

Madison, DJ's sister, says it was a difficult time. "My first memory of the situation was coming in on that Monday and seeing all the wires hooked up to him and it was one of the hardest things I have ever seen."

DJ has no memory of what happened.

"The very first thing I remember is when I was in a dark room and I was lying flat and I couldn't move and I looked around and I see my dad just looking at me and I tell him, what happened?" DJ says.

DJ had no movement in his arms and legs for the first few weeks. He had to learn how to walk, talk and eat again.

"Even just brushing your teeth or like tying my shoe or getting out of bed, that was really hard," DJ says.

Once DJ walked out of Dell Children's he was off to a rehab facility where he underwent physical, occupational and speech therapy.

While the prognosis didn't look it's been more than a year later and DJ is back to his old ways. Even playing JV basketball at Vista Ridge High School.

DJ's parents say it's a "modern day miracle that our son went from having a broken neck and a fractured skull to less than a year after playing competitive sports again."

The Richardsons add that now that the whole ordeal is behind them they want to thank their community for rallying behind them as well as the team of doctors and nurses who helped DJ.

DJ's coaches, teachers and classmates created the Hoops for Hope basketball tournament to help raise money for DJ's family during his time at the hospital.

On December 16, FOX 7 is partnering with Dell Children's for the FOX 7 Makes Miracles Mediathon. Alongside MIX 94.7, FOX 7 will be raising money all day for Dell Children's.

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