In 2018, parents Karolina and Shane’s world turned upside down. Their 21-year-old son, Austyn, was in a horrific car accident. As the fire department tried to cut Austyn from his car, they became increasingly afraid he may die before they could rescue him.
When Austyn was finally extracted from the vehicle, he was transported to the closest hospital. His parents were told he was completely unresponsive and on a ventilator. Austyn also had numerous facial fractures which would require extensive reconstructive surgery, potentially losing his left eye. The hospital’s plan was to monitor Austyn overnight and have a neurosurgeon check him out in the morning.
At the time of Austyn’s accident, Karolina was working with the Orlando Health Medical Group and believed Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) would provide Austyn with the best possible care.
Austyn was soon transferred to ORMC’s Level One Trauma Center and quickly taken for additional scans. While in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Austyn’s parents were advised his CT scan showed their son had sustained a very severe brain injury with multiple bleeds.
Shane asked, “What does this mean for my son? When will he wake up?” The neurosurgery physician assistant looked up at both Karolina and Shane and said, “I am sorry to have to tell you this, but the type of brain injury your son has is un-survivable.”
After gathering their composure, Karolina and Shane had to break the news to Austyn’s three younger siblings.
As the clinical teams took extraordinary care of Austyn, various Orlando Health departments stepped in and provided astonishing care for their colleague, Karolina. Through the family’s darkest days, team members from across the organization rallied around them. They set up meal deliveries, made sleeping arrangements, offered their prayers and support, donated Paid Time Off hours, and, most of all, offered unwavering compassion.
Never giving up on her son, Karolina told the doctors to do whatever they would do if Austyn was their child. Then, sooner than they thought possible, Austyn began showing remarkable signs of potential recovery. He reached up and grabbed the neurosurgeon’s hand as he performed a sternal rub on him. "Well, that's a game-changer,” said Dr. Cress. With the slight change in consciousness, Austyn now had a 10% chance of survival, although he would likely remain in a persistent vegetative state.
Incredibly, later that day, Austyn opened his eyes for the first time – 50 hours after his accident. As the days progressed, he started following simple commands for brief seconds of time, but he still couldn’t track with his eyes, was barely moving the left side of his body and still needed ventilator support to breathe.
Austyn’s ICU stay was full of ups and downs. Three days after his accident, he developed pneumonia and had to have a tracheostomy on day seven. A 3D reconstruction CT scan of his face showed that although every facial bone was broken, including his eye socket, cheek and jaw, it was broken in such a way he would heal without surgery. On day 10, Austyn began playing catch with his mom using a stuffed animal. It caused such a commotion; numerous staff members came running to see. That day, Austyn smiled for the first time since his accident, and the following day, he said his name using a speaking valve.
Austyn was transferred to ORMC’s ICU step-down unit, then a week later he was ready to be admitted to Orlando Health’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center.
“If I thought the ICU stay was emotionally difficult, the rehab stay was an even bigger emotional rollercoaster,” recalls Karolina. When Austyn arrived at the inpatient rehab unit, the only part of his body he had any control over was his right arm. He was still on a feeding tube and his post-traumatic amnesia was so bad that he didn’t remember anything two minutes after it happened.
Austyn had a dedicated team of therapists who believed in him and pushed his limits daily. Twenty-five days after his accident, his family watched in joyful tears as Austyn’s therapists lifted his legs for him as he walked down the hall. Less than two weeks later, at an unprecedented rate of recovery, Austyn was walking on his own.
On December 21, 2018, just four weeks after entering the rehab center, Austyn’s family came to the hospital and found a surprise. They witnessed Austyn walking across the rehab finish line with only a cane as he was discharged home one week early.
Today, Austyn is pursuing a degree at Seminole State College. He loves the pool and the beach, and in his spare time enjoys painting, reading and playing video games. His strong willpower and perseverance have proven that he can overcome any challenge.
“Thank you, Orlando Health, for saving my son! Austyn went from un-survivable to unstoppable and we owe it to God and you!” – Karolina Seaman