Donovan Maldonado’s walk home from school on January 12, 2016, nearly turned deadly. Then 13, he crossed a street in his Brentwood neighborhood when a car traveling at 35 miles per hour hit him.
“I got a call from one of our neighbors that Donovan had been in an accident, but I didn’t think it was severe,” said Laura Garces, Donovan’s mother. “I asked how bad it was, and she avoided the question and passed the phone to the police officer. The police officer asked questions about Donovan’s health, but still wouldn’t tell me how bad it was. That’s when I knew something was really wrong.”
Ms. Garces drove an hour from her job in Queens to arrive by her son’s side at Southside Hospital. With a traumatic brain injury and several broken bones, Donovan had already received five units of blood. A ruptured spleen was later identified as the cause of his severe internal bleeding.
Hope for head trauma
Due to the seriousness of Donovan’s condition, Northwell Health’s SkyHealth helicopter service transported him to Cohen Children’s Medical Center, where physicians admitted him to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and placed him in a deliberate coma. Pediatric specialists in orthopedics, vascular surgery, trauma surgery and neurosurgery examined Donovan and determined that the most pressing concern was his traumatic brain injury, which caused his brain to swell.
“To reduce the pressure on his brain, we drilled a small hole in the skull and inserted an external ventricular drain, or EVD,” said Shaun Rodgers, MD, pediatric congenital and transitional neurosurgeon at Cohen Children’s. “The EVD let us drain spinal fluid, continuously monitor the pressure on his brain and deliver medications.”
The brain swelling continued, so on January 13, pediatric neurosurgeons removed a large portion of Donovan’s skull to give his brain the space it needed. They stored the detached piece within a pocket in the teen’s abdominal wall to keep it viable and reduce the risk of infection when it was time to return it to its original location. (Clinicians can also freeze such a bone fragment when the “pocket” approach won’t work for a patient.)
Two weeks later, Donovan’s swelling went down enough for surgeons to rebuild his skull.
A long road, traveled together
During her son’s hospitalization, Ms. Garces left her job to stay by his side at Cohen Children’s. Although it was the most difficult time in her life, she remembers how much the medical team meant to her and her family.
“Dr. Rodgers saved my son’s life,” Ms. Garces said. “The whole team at Cohen Children’s was amazing. On top of caring for my child, they showed compassion toward my husband, Matt, and me. One nurse in particular, Sally Errico, was the biggest angel. We didn’t know what we were doing, but she clarified anything we didn’t follow. The social workers were also wonderful and comforting, especially the night we arrived.”
Donovan was discharged in early February 2016, but required further care and rehabilitation. In June, he began speaking for the first time since the accident. Today, Donovan is continuing his recovery with therapy and rehabilitation from specialists at Cohen Children’s.
“He’s a miracle boy,” Ms. Garces said. “He’s not completely healed, but we have faith that he will be eventually. Some things are different, but he’s walking, talking, jumping and running. He’s still very smart, funny and loving.”