On September 15th, 2004, Christina Maupin finished cheerleading practice at Nansemond River High School, climbed behind the wheel of her car and headed home.
It was just a short drive, but Christina never made it home. As she pulled out of the school parking lot, a flatbed truck barreled down the highway and crashed broadside into Christina’s white Buick Regal.
The 17-year-old doesn’t remember the crash or the weeks in the hospital that followed it. Her father, John Maupin, is hazy on some details but recalls others with agonizing clarity. He remembers reaching the accident scene and how the school’s police officer gently tried to keep him away from Christina’s car. He remembers how he insisted on going to her anyway and bending down to her on the stretcher so she would know he was there. And he is haunted about how her face registered nothing. “Her eyes were just blank,” John said. “I will never forget what she looked like at that moment.” Or, he says, the sight of his daughter being airlifted to the trauma center next to CHKD.
John soon learned that the force of the collision made Christina’s head move back and forth rapidly, causing her brain to crash against the inside of her skull. She had bruising throughout her brain. The trauma doctors explained that Christina must have turned her head sharply toward the left, the direction the truck was coming from, just before the collision. And because her spine was twisted when her head snapped back and forth, she also had significant shearing of the nerve fibers in her brain.
At best, they told John, she had a 20 percent chance of surviving the injuries.
But Christina has always exceeded everyone’s expectations. Before the accident, the high school senior was a gifted athlete, a gymnast and captain of her school’s cheerleading squad, where back flips and handsprings were her forte. She was also an honor student with a goal of attending the University of Virginia. Her excellent physical condition and innate determination were on her side, as were the support and prayers of a stunned community.
Still, Christina was in a coma for a month. “I stayed with her and talked to her constantly,” John said. “I told her whatever I thought she needed to hear. I told her not to worry about her hamster or her dog or her horse – that I was feeding them. And not to worry about missing classes or games – that it was all taken care of.”
Christina surfaced from the coma slowly. Gradually, the blank expression left her eyes and she started to look more aware of her surroundings. She started kicking her legs spontaneously – a good sign, John was told – and responding more and more to those around her.
The first and most frightening bridge had been crossed. Christina would survive.
But a great mystery lay on the other side of that bridge: what exactly would survival mean for Christina? Recovery from traumatic brain injury is difficult to predict, especially in cases like Christina’s, where the bruising and shearing of nerve fibers occur throughout her brain, instead of in one specific area. Would she walk again? Talk again? Or would her future be drastically different than the life she had before?
Christina’s rehabilitation was entrusted to a host of medical and rehabilitation specialists at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters.
Since she had been on a ventilator since her accident, her first stop at CHKD was the Transitional Care Unit, which specializes in the care of ventilator-dependent children. There pediatric pulmonologist Marilyn Gowen and pediatric otolaryngologist David Darrow, plus the unit’s highly skilled nurses and respiratory therapists, had Christina breathing on her own before long.
Christina’s next stop was CHKD’s inpatient rehabilitation unit. “Every patient who comes to our acute rehab unit has a unique combination of challenges,” says pediatric rehabilitation specialist Christine Thorogood. “Christina came to us in a very debilitated state. She still wasn’t eating on her own or talking. She could sit up, but only for a few minutes if her dad raised the head of her bed. And her communication skills consisted solely of wiggling her toes for ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
“Our goal is to help our patients reach their highest potential,” Dr. Thorogood continued. “We work to improve their mobility, their ability to handle activities of daily living, their speech and communication skills, their intellectual performance and their behavior and psychological adjustment.”
Christina had a team of specialists to help her in all of those areas. Every day, sometimes twice a day, she met with physical therapist Christine Songy to work on large-muscle skills such as sitting, standing and eventually walking. She also met daily with speech therapist Erin Douglass and occupational therapist Kathleen Yopp, who helped her re-learn how to feed herself, drink and hold a pencil. In between those sessions, Christina met with various doctors as well as hospital schoolteachers who helped her keep up with her schoolwork and child life specialists for some all-important stress-relieving activities. Her many friends also came to visit.
“I started sleeping again when she got to the TCU,” John said. “And once she got to the rehab unit, I was actually secure enough to go home for a while every day.” But he recalls key moments of her rehabilitation, just as he does her accident. “I remember when she gave me my first smile,” he said. “We used to play this joke on each other of picking up a ball and pretending we were going to throw it, but then just letting it roll out of our hands. One day the therapist gave Christina a ball, and she just let it fall. She smiled at me then. That was really great.”
John was also there when Christina spoke for the first time. “We were watching TV one night and she made a moaning sound – nnnnnn – with her mouth closed. I asked her if she could make another sound – ohhhh – with her mouth open. She did, so then I asked her to put the two sounds together. And she did it. She said, ‘no.’
“After that,” he continued, “it just seemed like a waterfall. Everything just picked up speed.”
Christina’s progress was remarkable on all fronts. Just two months after her accident, she was able to walk when she left Children’s Hospital. Her steps were tentative, and she wore a neck brace. But her megawatt smile still lit the way.
“Christina is one of our biggest success stories,” said Erin Douglass. “Her recovery has been amazing.”
One afternoon in March, just four months after she was admitted to the rehab unit, Christina stopped by for a visit, astonishing the staff – who had been her biggest cheerleaders – with her quickened gait and flowing speech. She was happy to tell them she was back in school and even back to cheerleading, although she assured them she’s not trying to jump or tumble yet.
Only time will tell if Christina will regain all of her athletic powers. But despite all she’s been through, her future looks very bright. She’s been accepted and will be attending college this fall after all.
And that’s something to cheer about.
Dr. Gowen practices with Children’s Specialty Group PLLC at CHKD. Dr. Darrow is with the EVMS department of otolaryngology. Dr. Thorogood is with the EVMS department of physical medicine and rehabilitation.
This story was featured in the second quarter 2005 issue of KidStuff, a publication of Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters.