Greene County’s reputation of coming together in dire times is one that’s well-earned; when a neighbor is in need, we come together to help. When 19-year-old Sean Young faced life-threatening injuries in July, it was this community that rallied around his family and that continues to as he faces new challenges now that he’s home.
On the evening of July 3, Sean, a 2019 United Christian Academy graduate, was knocked off the front of a boat on Lake Anna and hit by the propellers.
“My brother was on the tube and I was sitting in the front of the boat, watching him—the hand signals to speed up, slow down, stop,” Sean said last Friday. “The boat took a turn and I fell off, that’s about all I can tell you. I was asleep for the most part. UVA had me under heavy medication and I don’t remember much about it.”
Sean was severely injured and barely alive when Pegasus medics arrived. “Everything just kind of stopped for me and I got to the hospital a lot faster than he did,” said his mother, Jennifer. “When Pegasus arrived I actually knew the medic flying that night and I got to see him and hug him, thank God. When he got there he said, ‘Jen when I got him he had a systolic (blood pressure) of 58 and no diastolic,’ so he wasn’t perfusing.”
Medically, perfusion is the passage of fluid through the circulatory system or lymphatic system to an organ or a tissue, typically referring to the delivery of blood. The diastolic reading, or the bottom number of your blood pressure result, is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. At the time medics arrived, Sean’s blood pressure reading was 58/0.
Jennifer said Sean required seven units of blood, beginning at the accident scene and during the flight to UVA Hospital.
“They had him to about 118 systolic, but he didn’t stay stable; he started crashing again immediately,” she said. “I know as a nurse he should have never made it out of the water.”
Loss of blood, however, wasn’t all Sean faced.
“I had a hurt lung, a break in the T10 of my spinal cord, my back broke twice, I had five cuts on my body all below the shoulders from the propellers and a spleen laceration,” Sean said.
The spinal column is made up of 12 thoracic vertebrae, eight cervical vertebrae and five lumbar vertebrae. The 10th thoracic vertebra is one of the 12 vertebrae that make up the central section of the vertebral column. The cervical vertebrae are located in the neck and the lumbar vertebrae are in the lower back.
“One thing about all these injuries is that I can control everything above my belly button, so that’s good. Well, it’s OK,” Sean said.
“In comparison,” Jennifer said.
The pair went to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga., that focuses on spinal cord injuries.
“We received a gift of a jet plane ride to Shepherd,” she said. “It’s where the doctors said if they were injured that’s where they’d go, where they would send their loved ones and that recently one of their doctors had gone there for a spinal cord injury, so that made me feel good. Sean’s doctor was in a wheelchair and he knew firsthand what Sean said was going on with him. He knew how to help him. Shepherd is staffed with a lot of people who have had their own traumatic injuries, including their nurses.”
Sean’s physical therapist at Shepherd noticed that the flexibility in his legs was decreasing.
“I have HO (heterotopic ossification),” Sean said. “I have bones growing on my bones in the hip area. We’re monitoring it, as well.”
Jennifer said HO happens in about 20% of the spinal injury cases.
“Basically, he has calcium deposits that are depositing in the soft tissue area and if left untreated could turn into solid bones,” she said. “If it turns into a solid bone it could fuse the hip and not be able to move.”
“I’m very non-flexible right now,” Sean said.
He’s taking medication for that, and while it can stop it from happening more, it cannot reverse what’s already been done.
The hardest thing Sean had to learn to do while at Shepherd is floor transfers.
“If I’m on the floor, I have to get back up and get back into the wheelchair; it’s the hardest thing I had to learn,” Sean said.
Staff at Shepherd also taught Sean how to go down flights of stairs in his wheelchair in case of an emergency.
Sean said he’s lost 30 pounds, which has been strange to see.
“The second thing I had to get used to is knowing I have to pick up my leg with my arm to move it,” he said. “Other than that, yeah, it’s not all that bad.”
While they were in Georgia, local groups worked to get ramps purchased. There’s a ramp that goes to the front door of their Ruckersville home, that was put up by Local 10 Union that Sean is a member of. Area nonprofit Mason’s Toy Box purchased a ramp that encircles the house to the back entrance where Sean will live once renovations are complete inside. They’re still in need of donations to pay for both projects.A third ramp has been donated so Sean can access his grandmother's house nearby, as well. They’ve gotten a grant so they can purchase a MYOLYN bike that uses functional electrical stimulation to allow therapeutic exercise at home. Until the HO is in remission, Sean cannot use the electrical stimulation, though he can still use the bike.
Sean arrived home on Sept. 2 and was able to take a car ride with his friend Tre Powell to see all the welcome home signs on businesses and lawns throughout the county.
“I just want to say thank you,” Sean said.
Tre and Austin, Sean's brother, rode down to Georgia in an RV, driven by Sean's uncle Brian and Joseph Reintges, to bring Sean and Jennifer home.
“Seeing (Tre) I knew it was back to normal life,” Sean said. “There was normal life as soon as I walked out of the building. It wasn’t going to be all perfect, handicap accessible stuff anymore. It’s time to start doing it for real; studying is over.”
“He’s been saying he wants to go back to work; he doesn’t know what he wants to do but he wants to go back to work,” Jennifer said. Before the accident Sean was working in heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
“It’s been a lot learning. My sandbox is emergency medicine. I was watching him crash but I knew they were doing everything,” Jennifer said. “When we got to Shepherd and got to the experts it was amazing how much I really didn’t know. It’s been lots and lots of research; there was lots of lingo that I didn’t know. It will probably make me a better nurse now when other spinal cord injury patients come into the emergency room.”
Jennifer said she wanted to thank everyone, too. On Friday, Sept. 4, a parade of cars, trucks and motorcycles drove by, led by Sheriff Steve Smith, to welcome Sean home. Money has been donated through a GoFundMe page and other ways. And her coworkers donated their paid time off so she could have the first month of leave paid for. She said the Ruckersville Lowe’s has been amazing, too.
“I got to celebrate my birthday with him while we were at Shepherd. He was my birthday present,” Jennifer said. “Most of my patients would not have made it out of the water. He had his brother there telling him not to give up and they never lost their cool. They got him out of the water, held pressure on the wounds, made phone calls to get help and they got him to shore. Everything seemed to line up.”