When the Tyler family suffered a devastating car accident far from home, all they wanted to do was recover together. See how Levine Children’s Hospital and Carolinas Rehabilitation brought them back to where they belonged: with each other.

News | 24 days ago

A Family That Stays Together Heals Together

When the Tyler family suffered a devastating car accident far from home, all they wanted to do was recover together. See how Levine Children’s Hospital and Carolinas Rehabilitation brought them back to where they belonged: with each other.

 

All the Tyler family wanted to do for Thanksgiving was spend time together. But their trip last fall from Fort Mill, SC, to Pennsylvania almost permanently split them apart.

As they were driving through West Virginia, Michael Tyler, the father, choked on a snack and passed out at the wheel. Sixteen-year-old Michael Jr. and his 14-year-old sister Hannah screamed from the backseat. Lorraine, the mother, tried to steer the car safely off the highway. But the car lost control and barreled into two trees.

To this day, the next few minutes remain fuzzy. Michael and Lorraine only remember firemen cutting them from their seatbelts. Michael and Michael Jr. were rushed to a hospital in Morgantown, WV, while Lorraine and Hannah were airlifted to a hospital in Charleston, WV.

It would be three weeks later, on the Atrium Health campus in downtown Charlotte, before they were all together again. With Michael Jr. transferred to Levine Children’s Hospital and his parents to Carolinas Rehabilitation (Hannah was healthy enough to return home), it marked the first time a child and both his parents all had inpatient rehabilitation at the same time at the two hospitals.

“We go to church together. We go on vacation together. We fight together. We laugh together. We cry together.” Lorraine says. “It was great to be together as a family again.”

For Michael Jr., the reunion was incredibly poignant. Since the accident, he’d been with his father in West Virginia but hadn’t seen his mother, who’d already been sent to Charlotte. “I would call her every day when we were apart and see how she was doing,” says Michael Jr. “When I saw her, it was just the greatest moment ever.”

The Tylers had a lot to be grateful for. All four family members had survived what could have been much worse. Hannah broke her leg and needed a blood transfusion. Lorraine broke her heel and ribs and suffered a small tear in her aorta. Michael broke both heels and his knees. After multiple surgeries, Lorraine and Michael both needed intense rehabilitation.

But Michael Jr. suffered the worst injuries. In addition to a head injury and broken wrist, he needed a stent implanted in his heart and three feet of his small intestine removed.

“Michael needed a lot of rehabilitation,” says Tobias Tsai, MD, the medical director of the pediatric inpatient rehabilitation unit at LCH. “He had very extensive traumatic injuries so he needed to get some practice on moving around again, and work on his strength and his movement.”

Coordination keeps the family close

For the Tylers, getting the right medical care was only part of getting better. Now that the family was together again, they wanted to see each other as much as possible.

That meant coordinating therapy sessions, with Michael and Lorraine completing their rehab in the morning so they could visit with their son later in the afternoon. It also meant the physicians and therapists from both LCH and Carolinas Rehabilitation keeping in constant communication.

“We did everything we could to make them feel welcome once they were here and keep the family together,” says Dr. Tsai.

Even if it meant bending the rules a little – like letting Michael and Lorraine room together. “They told us, ‘We normally don’t do co-eds, with male and female in the same room. But you’re married, so that’s okay,’” says Lorraine.

Being near family can improve recovery, explains Vishwa Raj, MD, medical director at Carolinas Rehabilitation. “Staying together helped their outcomes because it decreased the stress levels, they had more of a support system, and I think their mood and energy levels were much better,” says Dr. Raj.

Moving forward together

All the coordination paid off. Despite missing out on Thanksgiving, the family was reunited at their own home in time for Christmas.

In the meantime, the Tyler family is taking advantage of the Carolinas Rehabilitation location in Pineville, so they can continue their therapy closer to home.

While they are hopeful of putting the accident behind them, there are some lessons they also hope to carry forward, says Evan Santiago, an older brother who wasn’t in the accident and has been taking care of the family along with his sister Crystal.

“We’ve realized the fragility of life and that life is temporary. You could lose your family, your whole family the next day,” says Evan. “I feel like those moments with my brother and sisters and my mom and dad are just more special now.”

How are the Tylers doing now?

The family is feeling stronger and hopeful, looking forward to the day they can all get back to the activities they love most.

Michael Jr. is no longer wearing a neck brace and cast and is currently attending speech and occupational therapy. His head injury still needs to be monitored, and there’s a chance he may need an additional heart surgery. He hasn’t returned to school yet, but he works with a homebound teacher provided by his high school so he can stay caught up with his classmates.

Michael has taken his first steps, and the swelling in his feet has come down dramatically. He’s looking forward to returning to work again soon.  

Lorraine is doing well: Her aorta and ribs have healed. She currently uses a knee scooter. She will begin physical therapy soon toward her goal of walking and driving again in the near future.

Hannah is completing her last few sessions of physical therapy. She has returned full-time to school and is back to her passion of singing with her church.