A horrific crash, a remarkable recovery

Patient Stories |

05/14/2020

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A 13-year-old athlete couldn’t walk or talk after a serious accident. Now nearly three months later, Matthias Pfister is inspiring his parents and his hospital care team. “He will probably walk out of the hospital as one of the truly most amazing recoveries I have ever seen.” – Dr. Jeffrey Raskin

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

He doesn’t remember anything about the accident, and that’s a blessing for Matthias Pfister. For his parents, it’s a different story.

Matthias with his parents Kyle and Lauren Pfister

Kyle and Lauren Pfister can’t erase the memories of that horrible Saturday back in February – the day their 13-year-old son was critically injured in a car crash not far from their Danville, Indiana home.

Kyle was at the wheel when he and another vehicle collided at an intersection. The brunt of the impact was on the passenger side of the car – Matthias’ side. He was knocked unconscious. Within minutes, a Pittsboro EMS unit was on the scene to render first aid.

But also coming up on the scene was Lauren in another vehicle with the couple’s two younger children and their grandmother. They had stopped to get gas after the whole family left a dance recital in which Matthias’ sister had performed.

“I was a couple minutes behind them and we came up on the accident,” Lauren said. “EMS was already there. It’s just crazy – in the blink of an eye they were there.”

In that same blink of an eye, their lives changed. But they were also blessed that day, Lauren believes.

Riding with the EMS unit was a Hendricks County emergency physician who was shadowing them. When they were able to get Matthias out of the vehicle, that doctor intubated Matthias on the scene and made the call for him to be airlifted to Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

“It was a true blessing that he was there that day,” Lauren said.

That blessing extended to his care team at Riley when he arrived at the hospital and in the months since then.

“HE WAS COMATOSE, LITERALLY DYING”

When pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Jeffrey Raskin got the call that a trauma patient was on his way to Riley, he sprang into action.

“When I get a call like I did with Matthias, and it is clear we are going to need to engage the resources of the Riley neurosurgical OR team, I call our nurse leader Diane Seibold and ask her, ‘You wanna save a life?’” Dr. Raskin recalled.

Matthias suffered a devastating head injury in the crash. On top of a depressed skull fracture and epidural hematoma, one eye had popped out of its socket.

“He was comatose, literally dying,” Dr. Raskin said.

“I told the family Matthias is very ill and will die unless I take him to the operating room, and he still might die after that,” the surgeon said. “I think within 30 minutes he was in the OR. The decompressive craniectomy to remove skull, repair scalp lacerations, debride the brain and stop the bleeding did not take long, about an hour and a half. After that, he made a steady and continuous recovery, which has been remarkable to watch.”

The first few days after the accident were a blur for Kyle, who was not seriously injured, and Lauren, along with their parents and Matthias’ aunts and uncles, all of whom descended on the third floor of Riley, taking over the family lounge of the PICU that first week.

Matthias, who loves playing baseball, basketball and football, suffered a traumatic brain injury, followed by a stroke and couldn’t walk or talk. Dr. Raskin operated on him several more times, including putting in a shunt to relieve pressure in his brain. Each time, Matthias slowly improved a little bit more.

The teen’s mom will never forget the moment she knew her Matthias would be OK.

First, it was a squeeze of the hand. Then a thumbs up. Then he wanted to have a thumb war, Lauren recalls.

He still wasn’t speaking, but “we knew he was in there,” she said. “And so we just kept pushing.”

Matthias working with physical therapists in Riley's rehab unit

Today, nearly three months after the accident, Matthias has made remarkable progress, thanks to intense daily therapy in Riley’s rehab unit, where he has worked with physical therapist Kristina Davey and others to regain his speech and mobility.

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