Dancing Back Into Life

On a cold January night in the small southern Illinois town of Eldorado, 17-year-old Joey Etienne’s life was changed in seconds as the car he was riding in was t-boned crossing a two-lane road. While his other friends in the car were conscious with only minor injuries, Joey lay unresponsive.

The straight-A student athlete was immediately flown to a hospital in nearby Evansville, Indiana, while his mother, Beth Fletcher, raced to get there. “I was scared to death,” she says. ”Everything changed in a split second with one phone call.”

Joey’s injuries were extensive: three deep brain bleeds, six fractured ribs, a punctured lung, a severely damaged spleen, and 10 levels of his spinal column broken. A neurologist said the depth and location of his brain injuries were concerning and left Joey with an unclear prognosis at the time.

“He was hooked up to every machine you could imagine with tubes entering and exiting his body from head to toe,” Beth recalls.

Joey spent 17 days in an intensive care unit in Indiana. He was unable to walk, talk or eat. Reuben Cohen, MD, a pediatric intensivist in Indiana, recommended Joey be transferred to Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital in St. Louis for his best hope for recovery.

Putting Recovery on the Fast Track

Thirty-three pounds lighter, Joey arrived at Ranken Jordan on Jan. 22.  “The team immediately started evaluating Joey and noticed he was tracking us with his eyes,” Beth says. “That’s the first time we knew he was aware. I had a huge rush of emotions—we had hope. The Ranken Jordan team didn’t waste any time to put a plan in place and get started.”

Joey began intense therapy. At first, he couldn’t grab a ball out of the therapist’s hand.

“We had been told it would be a long recovery process,” Beth says. “Yet within two to three days, he was eating, and within 10 days, he was talking. About two weeks after his arrival, he began standing. He also began using special equipment to help him learn to walk again.”

“Walking with someone beside me was freeing,” Joey says. “I owe my speedy recovery to Ranken Jordan.”

Pushing for A Miracle

While Joey suffers from short-term memory loss as his brain heals, his physical recovery has benefited from Joey previously playing football, running track and working out regularly. His sense of humor, dedication and charm took him far, too.

“Once he began talking again, I saw that his personality was the same,” Beth says. “I realized this is my son—he’s back. And I’ve learned how precious every single day is.”

During Joey’s stay at Ranken Jordan, his mom stayed by his side as his biggest cheerleader and a key part of his recovery team. “I never thought he would have this amount of success,” Beth says. “I’m so grateful we were referred here. Joey would not have gotten this far so quickly without coming here. They have given Joey back his life. He is a miracle. In my wildest dreams, I didn’t think he would be walking out of here and be where he is now.”

Nick Holekamp, MD, vice president and chief medical officer at Ranken Jordan, explains that it’s difficult to predict a patient’s outcome early after an injury. “What we do know is that a positive, strong family is directly linked to a good outcome. That’s key, and that’s what Joey has. He also brought drive, a good attitude and athleticism. If a patient can perceive, process and activate after an injury, that gives us a lot to build on and makes us optimistic. We start to push the patient to regain skills and function. Joey is a perfect example of that.”

Beth says the staff taught her what she needs to do to keep Joey safe at home. A therapist from Eldorado met with a Ranken Jordan therapist to discuss goals and expectations as Joey continues therapy in his hometown. In addition, a school liaison from Ranken Jordan worked with Joey’s high school to develop a plan for Joey’s return to school.

“Ranken Jordan’s therapists and doctors are wonderful,” Beth says. “They are a powerful team that works well together. They pushed Joey and knew just what he needed. I’m forever indebted to them.”

Accepting the Promposal of a Lifetime

Part of Joey’s therapy included learning how to dance so he could attend his high school prom April 27. The goal motivated him, especially since a pretty girl had asked him to be her date.

Talk of prom sparked mischievous eyebrow wiggles from Joey.

On April 27, his fellow classmates cheered as he confidently walked with his date down the Eldorado High School steps into an unforgettable night and bright future.

By the time Joey went home nearly 11 weeks after his accident, he was walking independently, talking and joking. And he was ready for his prom date.