August 30, 2014, the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, started out to be a fantastic day. My older son, Andrew, who had just left for his freshman year at the University of Iowa, was texting my husband, Dale, and me with excitement as he prepared to attend his first Big 10 football game as a Hawkeye. At the same time, Dale and I were preparing to watch our younger son, Adam, play in the first high school football game of his sophomore season. His coaches named him a co-captain for the game, which was being played in the neighboring town against one of our rivals. It was a gorgeous morning filled with excitement for the new season.
But what began as a fabulous day quickly turned very scary. Adam played an aggressive game, and mid-way through the third quarter, he pulled himself off the field, something he had never done before. When he began vomiting on the sideline, Dale and I quickly ran down to the field to check on him.
It was apparent something was very wrong. Adam first lost use of his legs, falling to the ground, then he lost his words, then he lost consciousness. He began flexing his arms and legs–something I now know is called “posturing,” an indication of a severe brain injury. The team trainer and doctor immediately came to Adam’s side to assist, as did the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and ambulance that happened to be at the game, which was very fortunate, helping to quickly give Adam medical care.
They rushed Adam to the nearest hospital for a CAT scan, which confirmed he was suffering from a subdural hematoma–a condition caused by a head injury severe enough to burst blood vessels. The bleeding and increased pressure on his brain were life threatening, so Adam required emergency surgery. Since we were at a small, regional hospital, the medical staff air-lifted him via helicopter to a larger university medical center. There, within two hours of Adam’s injury, neurosurgeons performed a craniotomy to remove the hematoma and decrease pressure on his brain.
To say this was a surreal experience is an understatement. In the early moments following Adam’s injury through the time waiting while he was in surgery, Dale and I wavered between shock, disbelief, and fear. The feeling of helplessness was most overwhelming, knowing there was nothing we could do to help our son; we could only wait while doctors performed surgery. We cried, and we prayed. We called family members and friends, asking for their prayers as well.
Work was the last thing on my mind during this time, but I needed to let my team know what happened. Not only for practical reasons, since I knew I wouldn’t be back at work after the holiday weekend, but also I knew they would support us, sending positive thoughts to give us strength. I first e-mailed my manager from the hospital with news of what happened. It was a quick exchange, given the critical nature of the situation, but she informed my immediate team and other colleagues who needed to know.
I work for global professional services company Accenture, so, before I knew it, I was receiving well wishes via e-mail, social media, text, and even handwritten notes from my colleagues all over the world. I later told Adam that people on five continents were praying for him when he was in the hospital. If that doesn’t give you strength, I don’t know what will!
“Before I knew it, I was receiving well wishes via e-mail, social media, text, and even handwritten notes from my colleagues all over the world.“
Thankfully, Adam’s surgery was an amazing success. We learned at one point that his injury is extremely rare, with only a 1/300,000 chance of this happening to a high school football player. Forty percent don’t survive the injury, and for the 60 percent who do, we’re told it is extremely rare to recover as quickly and completely as Adam has.
The day following the surgery, the doctors woke him to gauge his cognitive ability. The ventilator that was helping Adam breath prevented him from speaking, so doctors asked Adam to give a “thumbs up” if he understood what they were saying. He immediately gave the thumbs-up sign, which brought us to tears.
The next day, doctors removed the ventilator to test Adam’s breathing and speech. Literally, the first words out of Adam’s mouth were, “Did we win?” Those words later became the hashtag, #didwewin, featured in the video his team made to welcome him home from the hospital, only five days after his injury.
Coming home from the hospital was the first major milestone in Adam’s recovery. Three weeks later, he was back at school, albeit for only two hours at a time before he’d become fatigued and need to rest. He was adamant about getting back to normal though and worked tremendously hard to catch up at school. It was slow at first, but within another several weeks he was able to sustain a full day at school without rest breaks.
Adam leaving the hospital on September 4, 2014.
During this time, Accenture provided me the most support. I was able to work at home full time, to watch over Adam and take him to and from school and doctor appointments as needed. I limited participation on conference calls to allow more flexibility in my schedule. Two of my teammates, in particular, carried a lot of my workload to afford me this flexibility during early days of my return.
What I found to be most remarkable about my return is that Accenture gave me opportunities to continue to contribute on my own terms. After Adam was back at school, they asked me to lead an important project–the first of its kind for us, doing external crowdsourcing (soliciting contributions from the online community) to inform new employee and recruitment messages for the company. It was the kind of work I could do with some flexibility, and it also gave me purpose during a time where I was feeling very fragile. It was a growth opportunity I will never forget and always appreciate.
“It was the kind of work I could do with some flexibility, and it also gave me purpose during a time where I was feeling very fragile.“
Fast forward to today. So many positive things have occurred since Adam’s injury. He worked hard to regain strength and catch up in school. There is no rushing recovery from a traumatic brain injury. However, with lots of support from the school, teachers and doctors, Adam is back to full capacity, making strong grades again. He has been released by all of his neuro and cognitive doctors, having been given a clean bill of health; a full recovery.
Although he is no longer able to play contact sports, Adam remains on his football team, where he serves as a captain and helps with coaching. He has spoken with players, parents and coaches at the youth and high school level about the importance of football safety. A senior in high school, he is applying for colleges and actually just received his first acceptance letter from the University of Iowa, where his brother is starting his junior year.
From my perspective, life couldn’t be better. We are blessed with a healthy, happy and whole family. Nothing is more important.
There is no playbook for how to react when a critical situation like this occurs, especially when it involves a child. As parents, our reactions are guided by our need to protect our children and ensure their wellbeing. Things that seem important on a daily basis suddenly become unimportant during a crisis.
My family in May 2016 –Our son Andrew, me, my husband, Dale, & our son Adam.
Having a strong support system through family, friends, school, church, and the community at large can relieve a lot of the stress and pressure, enabling us to focus solely on the situation at hand. For me, this was absolutely the case. I am forever indebted to those who provided outreach and support and continue to do so, even after Adam’s recovery.
I am also incredibly grateful to my employer, Accenture, for the support they provided me during a time of crisis and, equally important, afterward, when they continued to give me opportunities to contribute and grow, while enabling me to balance work with my home life. I am also thankful for my amazing colleagues all over the world whose positive words of encouragement lifted me during a dark time. I am proud to work for Accenture for many reasons, but it is the character of the company and the people who work there that make me proudest and motivate me to be the best I can be.
Christine Bailey is a global director of recruitment marketing for Accenture, based in Chicago.