“This is Why God Made Helicopters”

April 24th, 2010 started out like a normal Saturday for Mark and Jennifer Soper and their sons Luke, 3, and Jackson, 14 months. Jennifer, a labor and delivery nurse at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, was no stranger to dealing with bumps and bruises with these two active boys at home. So when Jackson took a tumble at about 11:30 that morning and struck the back of his head, there were no initial indications of the roller coaster ride that awaited them.

After Jackson fell he cried briefly, but seemed otherwise uninjured. About 90 minutes later, however, Jackson began crying and was inconsolable. “His eyes were closed and he just kept crying,” Mark recalled. “Then he threw up a couple of times and we watched the color drain from his face right in front of us.” That’s when Jennifer knew something was terribly wrong. 

The Sopers arrived at Lakeland Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Department 2 hours after Jackson’s fall. Triage nurse Linda Calahan was the first to see Jackson. “He was listless in [Jennifer’s] arms and I immediately took him back to the trauma room,” Linda recalled.  Nurse Adrianna Retberg and Dr. Dan Chaffee were quick to evaluate Jackson and an immediate CT scan of the head was ordered. It was read by the radiologist and the results relayed to Dr. Chaffee. Jackson had suffered a significant head injury and had a serious and life-threatening condition: an epidural hematoma. Jackson had a large blood collection in the left rear portion of his head. This was a deeply concerning finding for anyone, let alone a small child. The collection of blood within the skull was slowly compressing Jackson’s brain causing him to lose consciousness.

Dr. Chaffee contacted trauma surgeon Dr. Paul Blostein at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo and began making arrangements to transport Jackson to The Children’s Hospital at Bronson. Jackson was in need of immediate neurosurgical intervention. The best option was determined to be rapid helicopter transport and West Michigan Air Care was activated.

The call was received at 2:45 p.m., and within 10 minutes the crew was in the air en route to St. Joseph. Upon arrival at the Emergency Department at approximately 3:15 p.m., Jackson’s condition had continued to deteriorate to the point that he required breathing assistance and intubation. He was given medication to keep the pressure and swelling inside his head as minimal as possible. Jackson was loaded onto a pediatric backboard and a neck immobilization collar was applied. Thirty minutes later, Jackson was ready to leave the ER. Jennifer and Mark were tearful and anxious as they accompanied Jackson to the helipad to say goodbye.

During transport to Bronson, Jackson’s vital signs were closely monitored. He was given medication for sedation and a reassessment of his pupils revealed that they were now unequal, a change from his initial assessment in the ER. This was a sign that the blood collection was likely expanding and beginning to compress the brain stem. His heart rate and blood pressure were becoming difficult to manage. A call was placed while in flight to update Bronson’s trauma team of the change in little Jackson’s condition. Upon arrival at Bronson’s ER at 4:25 p.m., the decision was made to go straight to the operating room where neurosurgeon, Alain Fabi, was awaiting Jackson’s arrival. 

By the time Mark and Jennifer arrived at Bronson, Jackson was already well into his surgery. Afterwards, he was taken to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit under the care of Dr. Robert Beck, where Jackson’s breathing tube was removed and Jackson began to wake up. 

Jackson remained at Bronson for five days and was discharged home on April 29th. Aside from some issues with nausea during his hospital stay, Jackson’s recovery was relatively uneventful. The Sopers expressed their gratitude saying, “He has made a complete recovery thanks to the quick diagnosis in Lakeland’s ED, the amazing flight team at Air Care, Dr. Fabi who performed the lifesaving surgery on my son and everyone [else] involved. He is just fine and back to running, jumping, climbing and enjoying life. We are so blessed to have him.” Dr. Beck summarized Jackson’s experience by saying, “This is why God made helicopters.” 

Jackson’s attending flight crew:  Flight Nurse Sara Sturgeon, Flight Nurse Kevin Ferguson, Pilot in Command Rick Morley.

By Sara Sturgeon
Flight Nurse
West Michigan Air Care

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