For Max Krempasky’s grandparents who have a business called Heavenly Gardens, naming a rare double day lily “Max’s Miracle” after their 9-year-old grandson seemed very fitting – Max nearly died in an ATV accident and spent five weeks in the pediatric intensive care unit at Dayton Children’s.
But on the day that Max was discharged, his day was filled with flowers – and a little silly string party – in celebration. Max was able to go home two days before Christmas.
“It’s a miracle that we ended up at Dayton Children’s,” shares Michelle, Max’s mom. “We live in South Vienna, so we’re between Dayton and Columbus. God knew what he was doing when he brought Max here. The staff is now part of our family.”
Described as a hands-on, “farm kid” by his mom, it was no surprise to her when he asked to have friends over for his birthday to ride ATVs on the family’s farm. “In the midst of movies, pizza and Nerf guns, the kids wanted to ride on our ATV and Gator,” shares Michelle. “While the kids are conditioned to wear helmets on bikes, it didn’t cross my mind when they rode the ATV.” While riding the ATV, Max turned his head when his friend stopped to put on a jacket. That’s when he accidently drove into a tree, flipping the 700 pound ATV on top of him, fracturing his jaw and fracturing and dislocating two vertebrae in his back. “His friend Brendon is our hero,” says Michelle. Brendon ran to the house to get Michelle and Max’s sister Taylor. The three lifted the Gator off Max. Max wasn’t breathing and his jaw was broken in two places. Michelle started CPR and his sister called 9-1-1. “He was a terrible shade of blue and gray and his jaw was hanging to the side. “My first thought is that he wasn’t going to make it. This was it.” says Michelle. “After a few compressions, he started coughing and gurgling. He started breathing a little on his own. As soon as I got him to breathe, he started to move and fight me.”
That’s when Michelle realized that this wasn’t the end for Max. “A running joke in our family is that Max will tell you what to do,” explains Michelle. “When he started to tell the emergency responder that he needed more suction in his mouth, I knew that was the turning point and he would survive.” Max was sent by CareFlight to Dayton Children’s and was taken under the wing of multiple surgeons and specialists. “It is a miracle that he even survived this type of injury,” shares Patricia Abboud, MD, one of Max’s pediatric intensivists. “The direct impact of such a large piece of equipment on his cervical spine usually has dire consequences. Patients usually die or suffer significant long-term neurological consequences similar to the type of injury Christopher Reeves suffered after his tragic horseback riding accident. The fact that he was moving was a miracle. But he was very lucky. All of his injuries were to the bones and soft tissue, so the hope is that he will make a full recovery.”
Max was placed into a medically-induced coma for five days to reduce the swelling from his injuries. Michelle and Drew, Max’s father, were told Max’s spinal cord was intact, but the ligaments were destroyed. He couldn’t breathe on his own and needed a tracheotomy, a surgically-created hole through the front of the neck and into the windpipe to breathe. The Krempaskys knew the road to recovery for Max would be long and hard. Max had four surgeries over five weeks. One surgery was to fuse his spine and put him into a “halo,” which holds a child’s head and neck in place after a spinal injury so that spinal bones, or vertebrae, can heal. He also needed surgeries to repair his fractured jaw.
Because his jaw was fractured in multiple places, a gastrostomy tube (also called a G-tube) was inserted into his abdomen to deliver nutrition directly to his stomach to get calories and fluids.
“The entire staff was so supportive of not only Max, but also of our entire family,” says Michelle. “We were part of family-centered rounds every morning and the physicians always asked my opinion as a mom. I felt reassured, calm and at ease. We always knew his care plan and shared our input to the plan.” Weeks went by and Thanksgiving was celebrated in the pediatric intensive care unit at Dayton Children’s. Max continued to make significant improvements following his surgeries, learning how to use a walker and sit up. The hospital became a home away from home and staff quickly became friends and family.
“The nurses would bribe him by doing cartwheels to coax him with his physical therapy, they had Nerf guns and silly string parties,” says Michelle. “His favorite nurse Aaron brought in movies from home that he thought Max would like. Every time someone came into our room, they would ask our entire family if we needed anything. They took care of our entire family.”
Michelle and Drew were preparing themselves to spend Christmas at the hospital, but Max shocked all of them, including his physicians. “His care team wanted to make sure everything was fused and he could walk before he was discharged,” says Michelle.
“We were also concerned that he might need to go home with his tracheotomy.” But their concerns were eliminated when Max’s trach was removed on the same day Michelle and Drew heard the news that they were hoping for: Max was able to go home.
Max was discharged from Dayton Children’s two days before Christmas. He went home with the halo and G-tube, which he had for several weeks. Max’s halo was removed on February 4 and his road to recovery is still in progress. He comes to Dayton Children’s every Wednesday for physical therapy and speech therapy. He’s now working closely with speech therapy on chewing and swallowing. “It really is a miracle he’s still with us and was able to go home for Christmas.
“He couldn’t have made this type of incredible progress without a strong will to live and the incredible care team at Dayton Children’s who saved his life.”