After 18-year-old Christian injured his spinal cord, Jonathan Mariano, a peer volunteer from the Levine Children's Hospital Pediatric Trauma Survivors Network helped move his life forward.

Child Health, News | 4 years ago

Overcoming a Life-Changing Injury With a Survivor’s Support

Children dealing with a traumatic injury don’t have to go it alone at Levine Children’s Hospital. Our Pediatric Trauma Survivors Network – one of the first of its kind in the country – provides the support and encouragement to move forward. 

Following a traumatic injury to his spinal cord last July, 18-year-old Christian Wylie found himself in the intensive care unit with a choice: lay there and be mad at himself or get better as fast as he could.

Thanks to the inspiration and friendship of Jonathan Mariano, a volunteer with the Pediatric Trauma Survivors Network at Levine Children’s Hospital, Christian decided he’d do everything possible to make the best of his situation.

Like Christian, Jonathan is a trauma survivor who uses a wheelchair to get around. Every two weeks, Jonathan visited Christian at LCH, showing him ways to do things he thought he could never do again, including propping himself up in his chair using his elbows or controlling an iPad with just his pinkie finger.

“When I first met Jonathan, I was amazed by his ability to move his hands and arms when I could barely move my arms,” says Christian. “He kept me motivated.”

It helped that Christian and Jonathan are close in age. “It’s easier to talk with somebody who’s not on the professional level, but someone who has been through it like me,” says Christian.

First-of-its-kind Trauma Support

This type of peer-to-peer interaction is a cornerstone of the program at LCH. With funding from the George W. and Ruth R. Baxter Foundation, Inc. in Charlotte and the support of the American Trauma Society and the Trauma Survivors Network, a long-running, national program designed for adult patients, LCH implemented TSN services specifically for pediatric trauma patients and their families – the first TSN program in the country to fully execute Trauma Survivors Network services for children.

“The Pediatric Trauma Survivors Network is available for patients and their families to help them move forward in their healing and recovery after a traumatic injury,” says Jessie Levy, coordinator of the program at LCH. Injuries range from damage to the spinal cord to traumatic brain injuries to severe burns, often resulting from motor vehicle accidents.

Launched last August, the pediatric program now has about 15 volunteers – either trauma survivors themselves or parents of survivors – who regularly visit patients at LCH. From reading books to preschoolers to playing video games with teenagers, the volunteers offer much-needed companionship as trauma survivors learn to adjust to their “new normal.”

“There’s so much that connects them that’s not injury-related,” says Levy, who is also organizing groups geared toward supporting a patient’s entire family.

The trauma survivor program helps round out the complete trauma care offered at LCH, which operates one of only three Level I pediatric trauma centers in North Carolina. While LCH has long provided Level I-type trauma services as part of Carolinas HealthCare System, LCH has now received its own Level I designation for its 24/7, life-saving care.

Giving Back

Discharged in late November, Christian plans to stay connected with Jonathan and the rest of the survivor community he met while in the hospital. He also plans to become a volunteer himself after undergoing thorough training over the next year.

Until then, he has some advice for patients like him who are facing a traumatic injury. “Whenever it first happens, your mindset is going to be ‘My life is over,’” says Christian. “But it will get better.”