By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthias Pfister is humbled.
After a car crash left him near death, after a devastating head injury, a stroke and multiple surgeries, and after learning how to walk and talk again, Matthias knows what it means to come back from the brink.
And he’s only 14.
The Danville eighth-grader continues a steady recovery nearly 10 months after the car his dad was driving collided with another vehicle in an intersection just minutes from their Danville home.
He was LifeLined to Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, where pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Jeffrey Raskin found him comatose, “literally dying.”
“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 after the accident.
Within 30 minutes, the teen was in the OR, where Dr. Raskin performed a decompressive craniectomy to remove part of his skull, repair scalp lacerations, debride the brain and stop the bleeding.
“After that,” Dr. Raskin said, “he made a steady and continuous recovery, which has been remarkable to watch.”
GRIT AND PURPOSE
The accident occurred Feb. 22. Matthias came home from Riley in May. And today, he has his good eye on playing baseball again with his team, the team that has supported him throughout his grueling journey. He’s even starting to practice again – hitting mostly, though that’s challenging when you consider that the crash left him with no vision in his right eye and only partial vision in his left.
But what he lacks in ability at this point he makes up for in grit.
He goes to therapy three days a week, two days at Riley and one day at the IU Health Neuroscience Center, in addition to attending a sports training program twice weekly to work on running skills and foot work.
When Matthias isn’t at therapy, he is working out at home to strengthen his arm and leg muscles, said his mom, Lauren.
She and Matthias’ dad, Kyle, have been humbled as well. Humbled by the show of love from their community. By the fundraisers, the cards, the gifts. By the parade the town held upon Matthias’ return home last spring. And by the lifesaving care their son received at Riley, for which they are “beyond grateful.”
Matthias’ grandparents temporarily uprooted their lives in Illinois to move to Indiana so they could help, taking the teen to therapy and doctor appointments while his parents worked.
“It’s amazing the support we have from our family, our town, our employers and people we don’t even know,” Lauren said. “We are so proud of him and can’t wait to see the great things to come for Matthias.”
The traumatic brain injury and stroke continue to affect the left side of the teen’s body, but he has made tremendous improvements in the past several months.
Matthias has his left arm working pretty well again, except for his fingers, his mom said. He can now open bottles and doors and hold his baseball bat.
“He is so determined each day and has changed the lives of so many people,” Lauren said. “It is unbelievable how positive and motivated he is to work to get back to baseline.”
She remembers that day in the hospital when she knew her son would be OK. First, it was a squeeze of the hand, then a thumbs up. He still wasn’t speaking, she said, “but we knew he was in there.”
“And so we just kept pushing.”
Today, Matthias keeps pushing. His limp is gone, he says, and he is running at 12 mph on a treadmill. He wants to be back on first base, playing with his team when the season opens April 15. He has his baseball gear set up in his room so he can work on skills through the winter.
“The first time he steps back on the field we are going to invite all of you to come watch and cheer him on,” his mom said.
Dr. Raskin doesn’t doubt that that day will come. He predicted as much before Matthias ever left Riley.
“He will probably walk out of the hospital as one of the truly most amazing recoveries I have ever seen.”
For all the excitement about baseball, Matthias said the accident taught him what’s most important.
“On the car ride (before the accident), I wasn’t talking to my dad because I was listening to music,” he said when we caught up last week over the phone. “That could have been the last time I talked to him, so I think about that. I love him a lot.”
That love extends to his entire family. A family counting its blessings as they prepare to celebrate another Christmas season in the best possible way – together.
A horrific crash, a remarkable recovery - 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