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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Winning the Battle

A soldier returns unscathed from Iraq, only to watch his son suffer the “signature wound” of the war
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The Unthinkable Happens continued...

“Austin was in excellent shape and I think his good muscular build really cushioned him in the fall,” says Story. “Except for some bad scrapes, he looked really good. You could look at himphysically and think, ‘This is the kind of guy that Greek and Roman sculptors used to use for models,’ because he was just in such great shape. It was hard to comprehend that somebody who looked this good was this badly hurt.”

That weekend, the nurses removed the ventilator but Austin remained in a coma. Sunday morning was especially difficult for the Story family. “It could be weeks, months, maybe even a couple of years before he wakes up,” a nurse told them. Later that day, Austin barely opened one eye.

Gradually, he gained more awareness of his surroundings, and one day he moved his left hand and foot. On September 11, Lisa held the phone up to his ear so his grandmother could speak to him, and a huge smile spread across his face for the first time.

A few days later, Austin was transferred to the pediatric brain injury program at Baltimore’s prestigious Kennedy Krieger Institute. He impressed the staff when, on the first evening, he walked 20 feet down the hall with his dad holding on.

When he arrived at Kennedy Krieger, Austin “had very little controlled use of the right side of his body,” says Dr. Stacy Suskauer, director of the institute’s brain injury program. “He was able to do just a little bit of standing and walking, but required assistance to do that. He was not able to speak at all. He was just starting to have moments of trying to communicate with a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’either through pointing to a hand or giving a high five for ‘yes.’ … The other thing he wasn’t able to do was eat at all when he first came here. In fact, he was breathing through a tracheostomy tube.”Austin was also quite agitated, just like the wounded soldiers Story had encountered over the years.

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