Good Shepherd Pediatrics Helps Teenager Overcome Traumatic Brain Injury

When Kelly Marks of Richlandtown, Pennsylvania, heard sirens after her son, Keith, left the house for school, she had a bad feeling. It is a feeling that every parent who has a child who drives understands.

Keith left early to help his high school music director that stormy, dark morning in October 2013. As his truck rounded a bend not far from home, it slipped on wet pavement and crashed into an enormous tree.

Keith suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and was rushed to the local hospital’s trauma unit, where things were touch and go. Keith’s dad, Steve, stayed at Keith’s bedside 24/7, with his family relying on their faith in God and each other to get them through those dark first few days.

“I am a veterinarian, so I understood what was happening to Keith medically,” says Steve. “When someone sustains a brain injury, you don’t know what the outcome is going to be. I had to trust in God to do what was best for Keith.”

Keith slowly came out of a coma but suffered complications, including pneumonia and difficulty regulating his temperature. He was unable to speak, swallow or walk. Steve and Kelly were not sure if their son would even recognize them. The first glimmer of hope came when Keith mouthed, “Hi Mom.”

Steve and Kelly began exploring rehabilitation options to help Keith recover.

“Location and accessibility were very important to us,” says Steve. “We wanted someplace that would accommodate our family so we could be involved in Keith’s care.”

They found the answer in Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital Pediatric Unit in Bethlehem. Keith was 18, but his parents felt that the colorful, positive environment at the unit was a perfect choice for Keith, who always loved younger children.

When Keith arrived, he had a feeding tube and was unable to move or hold his head up. The pediatric rehabilitation team designed a comprehensive plan, consisting of speech, occupational and physical therapy. It was difficult to go from being an independent teenager to bed-bound and reliant on others for basic necessities, so a Good Shepherd neuropsychologist who specializes in brain injury provided emotional support to help Keith process the enormous change he had experienced.

Given the severity of Keith’s injuries, the Marks family considered modifying their house, but the Good Shepherd team advised against it. Keith started to make progress, showing changes and improvements almost daily. After just a short period with Good Shepherd’s speech pathologists, the feeding tube was removed, and like most teenage boys, Keith’s appetite was almost insatiable, especially for his favorite food, pudding.

As Keith recovered, his therapy team transitioned him to more independent activities. Keith, who says it was fun being at Good Shepherd, made brownies and read books. Good Shepherd’s recreational therapists knew Keith’s love of music and arranged for a keyboard in his room. Community outings, such as shopping excursions with a Good Shepherd therapist, helped Keith relearn how to navigate the outside world.

By mid-December, Keith was ready to return home and to school. With the help of a tutor, Keith not only graduated with his class, but the school asked him to speak at graduation. This was not easy, as his language skills had not yet fully returned. Steve and Kelly recognize the tremendous courage Keith displayed in accepting the invitation and could not be more proud of their son.

Almost two and a half years after the accident, Keith says he is 100 percent and is back to doing the things he loves, including running, hiking, travelling and playing the piano. He attends college as a biochem/biostudies major and hopes to become a physician’s assistant.

It is clear that Good Shepherd means a lot to the Marks family. Not only does Keith volunteer at the unit once a week, but the family donated a beautiful fish tank for future pediatric patients and families to enjoy. Keith says that he enjoys the opportunity to pay it forward by helping the people who helped him.

For anyone facing a brain injury, Keith Marks is a daily reminder that possibilities are endless.

To learn more about the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital Pediatric Unit, call 1-888-44-REHAB (73422) or contact us online.