Jadon’s life changed when a tree branch fell on his head during Hurricane Florence. But now, he’s on the road to recovery and celebrating every victory.

News, Child Health | 3 years ago

Injured During Hurricane Florence: How Jadon Is Doing Now

Jadon’s life changed when a tree branch fell on his head during Hurricane Florence. But now, he’s on the road to recovery and celebrating every victory.

Jadon Olsen’s family has been in eastern North Carolina for the last 20 years, and they’ve seen their fair share of hurricanes. Having lived through the floods of Floyd and the devastation from Matthew, the Olsens weren’t too concerned as Hurricane Florence approached their Laurinburg home.

Like everyone else, they scrambled to stock up on water, propane tanks and solar-powered lights. The worst thing that would happen, they thought, would be a power outage – but they were ready for that. “It never occurred to us that the hurricane we were about to face would be one involving our son’s health,” recalls Elaine, Jadon’s mom.

The son of a pastor, 17-year-old Jadon is someone his family describes as “a lover of people.” He’s the kind of person who’s always there when a helping hand is needed, which is why on Friday, September 14, as Hurricane Florence pressed through the Carolinas, Jadon and his dad, Billy, were clearing a tree that was obstructing the road.

As they were doing their part to help local citizens stay safe, tragedy struck: A tree branch fell, hitting both father and son and leaving Jadon with a traumatic head injury.

Once in the nearest emergency room, the severity of the situation began to set in for Jadon’s parents. Elaine knew something was gravely wrong with her son – and she was right.

For brain injuries, minutes matter

The impact of the tree branch had fractured Jadon’s skull. He had severe bleeding in and around his brain – also known as a subdural hematoma, which pushes against the brain and ultimately leads to further brain injury, unconsciousness and death.

Time was critical to getting Jadon the care he needed. Down to the seconds and minutes, his emergency room care team was working against the clock to save him, and they knew the teenager’s best hope was in Charlotte, at Atrium Health’s Levine Children’s Hospital. Levine Children’s Hospital has all the specialists Jadon needed in one place, as well as the only dedicated rehabilitation unit for kids between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Both things are critical for treating patients with brain injuries as severe as Jadon’s.

In addition to the storm now raging within the walls of the ER, the onslaught from Hurricane Florence continued outside. Transportation by air was out of the question – the Olsens would have to brave the roads. Fortunately, an emergency medical crew with a weighted transport vehicle drove from Charlotte to pick up Jadon, giving him a secure ride to the hospital.

Not a moment was spared when Jadon arrived at LCH. He went directly to surgery, where neurosurgeons Tim Adamson, MD, and Vincent Rossi, MD, removed a large piece of the teen’s skull – this was to make room for his brain to swell and to prevent his injury from getting worse. From there, Jadon went to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and began the next phase of healing.   

Racing to rehab, then recovery

Traumatic head injuries like Jadon’s can be unpredictable and can have physical, mental and even emotional impacts down the road. From the moment she met him, Lauren Piper, MD, a pediatric critical care doctor at Levine Children’s Hospital, knew Jadon’s greatest chance for recovery was to make it to the rehabilitation unit – and fast.

In what she calls “a race to rehab,” Dr. Piper and her entire PICU team did everything they could to make sure the teenager progressed to rehab as quickly and safely as possible.

And it worked.

When Jadon first arrived at Levine Children’s Hospital, he was in a coma. A few days later, he’d improved enough to have his breathing tube removed. Shortly after that, Jadon was not only opening his eyes, but he even gave a high five and a thumbs-up.

Then, a miracle happened: Within a week of arriving, Jadon was cleared to go to rehab. And after days of being unresponsive and unable to talk, he turned to his mom and said, “I love you.”

While he was in rehab, Jadon returned to the operating room once more, where Scott Wait, MD, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Levine Children’s Hospital and Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates, replaced the area in Jadon’s skull that had previously been removed. Jadon was able to return to rehabilitation on the same day and really embark on his road to recovery.

“When I first met him, he couldn’t talk to me. Now we have full conversations. Every day we see his personality coming out,” says Tobias Tsai, MD, Jadon’s rehabilitation doctor at Levine Children’s Hospital.  

Though his treatment has been complex, Jadon has exceeded expectations. As part of his ongoing rehabilitation, he’s undergone therapy to help him speak and built up strength on an antigravity treadmill. And most importantly, he’s continued getting better and getting back to the person he was before the accident.

There’s still progress to be made, but his care team is optimistic. And they agree: A big part of Jadon’s remarkable recovery has been thanks to not just the specialized care he received at LCH, but also to his family, community and faith, which have supported him every step of the way.

“Seeing his progress is certainly a testament to how resilient kids can be. It’s very fulfilling to see someone who could’ve died making such steady progress each day on the road to recovery,” says Dr. Piper. “We have nothing but great hope that he’ll continue doing very well.”

Before his nearly fatal accident, the fight for survival and his race to rehab, Jadon was thinking about the future, like where he wants to go to college and what he wants to do. Jadon’s family and doctors still look forward to seeing him do all those things, but for now, they’re celebrating one small victory at a time – starting with the biggest milestone yet: On October 22, Jadon’s condition improved enough for him to leave the hospital.

As Jadon Olsen begins his new season of life, he won’t be facing it alone. His family, faith and care team at Levine Children’s and Carolinas Rehabilitation will be there every step of the way.