A Long Journey to Recovery After Head Injury

The story of Kaleb Southwick

For any parent or family member to know their child is in pain is nothing short of agonizing. When Jennifer Southwick of Potlatch, Idaho heard from a neighbor that her 12-year-old son, Kaleb, and 10-year-old daughter, Ryleigh, had been in a 4-wheeler accident along with a friend, her worst nightmare came true. 

"It was just like he's asked 4,000 times before, 'can I ride the 4-wheeler?'," Jennifer says about her son, Kaleb. She reminded the kids to grab their helmets and off they went. The young riders hit a tree. Kaleb's sister, Ryleigh, says he protected her from the impact by moving in front of her when he realized the wreck was inevitable. Even with a helmet on, he received a dire impact on the right side of his head.

Kaleb's long journey to his stay at St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute began when first responders quickly arrived and told Jennifer Northwest MedStar needed to be dispatched. 

"I knew then it was bad," Jennifer says. Kaleb was flown to the nearest hospital, and then to Spokane's Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children's Hospital for neurosurgery. 

"It was a very horrific situation," Jennifer says. "After surgery, the neurosurgeon told us that his outcome was grave, and this is the worst type of head trauma and injury possible."

As the region's only Level I Trauma Rehabilitation hospital for adults and pediatrics, St. Luke's case managers began checking in on Kaleb's progress and preparing the family for his transition to inpatient rehabilitative care at St. Luke's. That transition would not come for several weeks as Kaleb worked to grow stronger. "He could only say 'Hi' at this point," she says. "He couldn't walk or even move very much. He was on a feeding tube when he arrived at St. Luke's."

Once at St. Luke's, Kaleb's family never left his side. He received multiple services like physical, occupational, recreational and speech therapy. But, Jennifer says, recreational was by far his favorite. "He adored his therapist, Sara; she made him feel like a 12-year-old bo Kaleb on Trike y and made him work really hard without him realizing it." 

"We continuously worked on mobility and leisure interests," says Sara Dunbar, Kaleb's primary recreational therapist at St. Luke's. "He loved riding our adaptive trike around. As he became stronger and his activity tolerance increased, he would race it around. His parents then purchased a trike-style bicycle at a local bike shop so he could continue riding at home. We were able to adapt the bike so he could control it independently."

"All of his therapists were amazing," Jennifer says. "He gave 100 percent and then some."

With the help of a cane and leg brace, Kaleb is able to walk after his two-month stay at St. Luke's. "He still struggles with talking, but he's the goofy and silly Kaleb that he always was," Jennifer says. "He's our miracle." 

To learn more about the ways St. Luke's helps patients like Kaleb enjoy life to the fullest, please visit: www.st-lukes.org/Inpatient-Services/. 

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St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute
711 S. Cowley St.
Spokane, WA 99202-1330
509.473.6000

Inpatient Information: (509) 473-6058
Outpatient Information: (509) 473-6869