Day 15 - Austin McGhee

Austin McGhee was in a single car accident at the start of his senior year of high school on September 1st, 2014. He was on his way to work after a day of hanging out with his family on Labor Day. He overcorrected after one of his tires dropped off the edge of the road and his car did a 180-degree spin and hit a tree on the opposite side of the road. He was wearing a seatbelt, but the impact caused his head and shoulder to hit the passenger’s seat. Two gentlemen stopped and found him unconscious. One of them noticed that the car had caught on fire and they immediately got him out. By the time they crossed the street, the car was fully engulfed in flames.

Austin was flown to UT Medical Center, where he spent several hours in the ER and then transferred to the Neuro CCU. His family was told that he had a severe diffuse axonal brain injury, a subarachnoid hemorrhage, as well as a broken collarbone and a few facial injuries. He was put on life support and received a tracheotomy and PEG tube a few days later. His Glasgow coma scale score was a 3, which is the lowest score possible before death. After 11 days, he was not responding well, and was still in a coma. His parents and doctors made the decision to transfer him to Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The Shepherd Center is a specialized rehabilitation hospital that deals primarily with brain injury, stroke and spinal cord injuries. Austin spent 2 ½ months at Shepherd Center, relearning how to walk, but despite the staff’s best efforts, he did not communicate and progressed little in other areas as well.

Austin was discharged to come home just before Thanksgiving and started receiving home health therapy, while in a minimally conscious state. He eventually began talking, 4 ½ months after the accident, just after the New Year. Once Austin realized he had a brain injury, something he didn’t grasp immediately, the hard work of recovery began. Something he did not fully understand was his life was forever changed and that he could not simply jump back into the life he had before his accident. When you have a brain injury, you may sometimes come across more blunt or possibly as rude. He had to learn how to control his facial expressions and he still works on speaking less monotone. Austin’s accident happened when he was taking Calculus in high school and he naturally assumed he would be able to jump straight back into it again. What he learned was that he could not do simple 3rd grade fractions. Some things came back naturally, but many others required months or even years of rehabilitation. In the spring of 2015, he went to Shepherd Pathways Rehab in Atlanta for three months. He worked hard five days a week, kind of like school, except he was learning basic things like how to use a knife, bake a muffin and simply how to get back into the community again. After he was discharged from the Shepherd Center rehab program, he came home and started therapy at Patricia Neal Rehab. Austin doesn’t remember his accident, nor the 4 ½ months after, which is a blessing.

Since that time, Austin has slowly began rebuilding his life. He graduated high school and started college by taking one class his first semester. From there, he slowly added a class every semester, working his way up to a full-time class load. He is currently finishing up junior year. His degree will be in elementary education. This took more time than he planned, but he is thankful to God that he is alive and that he has the opportunity to go to college. Before his accident, school and good grades came naturally, however, now he understands the difficulties that some face and hopes to use this to relate to students who may have a hard time in school. His injury may be far from fully healed, but considering where he started, it has gotten a lot better. Although he may have rough times every now and then, he says that he tries not to stay there too long. Austin lists a few positives that did arise from his accident: he is more positive now, kinder, less quick to judge, and more focused on what really matters, God. Austin is so thankful for the support of his family, friends, doctors, nurses and therapists that have helped him along the way. Without a doubt, he would not be where he is today without them.

David Platillero