On December 28, 2010, life as Dylan and his family knew it would change forever. It was on this evening that Dylan was driving to a friend’s house when his car hit a patch of black ice, propelling him directly into a telephone pole. Dylan endured a tremendous amount of damage to his brain, causing him to slip into a vegetative state – a condition of wakeful unconsciousness. After a month of showing little improvement, Dylan’s doctors relayed the crushing news to his parents, Tracy and Steve, that he was likely to stay in this state for the rest of his life.
Then, a beacon of hope emerged – Dr. Joseph Giacino, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network’s Director of Disorders of Consciousness Program, was called in to consult on Dylan’s case. After observing Dylan over time, he began to think his brain may just need more time to heal. Dylan began to show incremental signs of improvement, and after spending three months in the acute care hospital, he was transferred to the Pediatric Unit at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital for rehabilitation.
“Now there’s evidence that if you do rehearsal of a particular behavior with a damaged brain, it may very well get better,” said Dr. Giacino.
When Dylan first arrived at Spaulding, he was still in a state of minimal consciousness. In the comfort and safety of this new environment, Dylan’s care team worked closely with him to practice basic activities, including how to stand, walk and swallow.
Dylan’s family was there with him every step of the way. Dylan would eventually need to relearn things like his colors, how to write his name, and to brush his teeth. Over the next few years he was able to regain many of his cognitive and physical abilities.
“Prior to Dylan’s case, the belief was that with someone who has a disorder of consciousness for longer than a year would be unlikely to recover,” said Dr. Giacino. “And now, Dylan is among a growing number of patients who defy the prognostic odds beyond that year mark. It’s not that it’s an exceptional case, we just don’t know how many exceptions to the rule there are. So I don’t believe in the rule anymore.”
Today, Dylan is doing exceptionally well. He works as a volunteer track and cross-country coach at his former high school. He has been invited to speak about his experience in several forums and plans to start online classes to further his education.
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