A teen’s life returned
On March 16, 2013, the Crippen’s lives changed forever. Conor, an 18-year-old freshman at Loyola University Chicago, was hit by an SUV while crossing the street, resulting in severe traumatic brain injury. His parents, Kathy and Phil, received a phone call around midnight about the accident and a new chapter of their lives began.
“It’s normally a five-hour drive to Chicago (from Dayton, Ohio), but that night we made it in about three and half,” Kathy says. “We had absolutely no idea what new life we were walking into.”
Kathy and Phil Crippen made their way to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, the same place where their son had been volunteering prior to the incident. “He was critically ill, despite our very aggressive monitoring and care,” says his neurosurgeon Dr. Kenji Muro. “His situation was very dynamic and those changes added to our concerns.”
“[Conor] was placed in the surgical intensive care unit (SICU) on a ventilator among other life saving support machines,” according to Anne Romer, Kathy’s sister, who created a dedicated Facebook page to provide updates. “Merely 24-hours ago, we were not sure of his ability to sustain life, but we believe through the power of superb medical care and the profound power of prayer, I can tell you that Conor has had a stable day.”
Kathy remembers how quickly Conor’s care team felt like family.
“They cared for Conor like he was more than just a patient, with such passion and meticulous care,” she says. “We couldn’t help but be in awe.”
Kathy and Phil started learning everything they could to help Conor fight back. They said the nurses and staff in the SICU began explaining every procedure and monitor, what they did and how it impacted their son.
A few days after the accident, Conor required surgery to relieve pressure on his brain.
“His clinical course was not expected so we always had a plan to address any possible scenario and stay steps ahead of any potential problem,” Dr. Muro says. “The thought of whether or not he would make it definitely crossed our minds, especially when problems seemed to compound rather than go away.”
“I think we’ve had blindfolds on this whole journey,” Kathy says. “We are making our way through unknown territory, and it has been long, exhausting and awful. But on the same token, every day someone has made it better for Conor. Bridget and Jack, Conor’s siblings, have risen to the occasion to help Conor fight and that’s something we are very proud of.”
The Crippens think of the past year as playing “connect the dots,” taking lead from the care team in the SICU to the rehabilitation team. The Facebook page continued to report all of Conor’s triumphs and setbacks during his rehabilitation. Conor has worked eight to nine hour long days of physical, occupational and speech therapy and some alternative therapies such as acupuncture, rock climbing and yoga.
Now back home in Ohio, Conor’s hard work and support from his family and friends has paid off. On March 21, 2014, one year after the accident, Conor walked tall and confidently back into the SICU for, what they call, a “family reunion.”
“It was a very joyous occasion,” Dr. Muro says. “Our lasting image of Conor was him lying in bed, wearing a helmet to protect his head and with tracheotomy or gastronomy tubes. It was remarkable to now see him standing vertical, in normal clothes and talking. It was the first time I heard Conor’s voice. It was fantastic to see.”
“They gave us our son back, they are and forever will be our family,” Kathy says.
One year later, Dr. Muro is optimistic for Conor. “It is very uncommon for a patient who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, like Conor, to come back and talk with me. He still has a long way to go, but the hardest part of therapy is that no one else can do that for him. So Conor really fought to bring himself back to life.”
Kathy and Phil believe the sky’s the limit for Conor.
“Conor today is a reflection of combined love and intentional and purposeful days and we will not stop until Conor is back at Loyola and spreads his message,” Kathy says.
While their journey still remains unknown, everyone who cheered “Go, Conor, Go” is now watching him go farther than anyone thought possible. Throughout all his rehabilitation and therapy, his father shares Conor’s message, “Every day is a good day. Every day is valuable and every day is special.”
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