Anatomy of an Accident

The one phone call that every parent dreads is the one that Montecito residents Susan and Bill Tuthill received after 12:30 am on June 22 this past summer. Susan recalls waking to the sound of the ringing phone expecting it to be her 15½-year-old son Jorden telling her that he wanted to come home rather than spend the night at a friend’s. Instead, the call was from Shirley Barrett telling her that Jorden had been in a skateboarding accident and that Shirley’s son Trey Barrett and friends Ethan Terry, Nick Dealy, Benito Najera, and Garrett Davis, who had been with him at the time, had taken him to the Emergency Room at Cottage Hospital. Susan’s initial thought as she jumped out of bed to dress and head for the hospital was that he had broken an arm or leg, maybe both, but on her way to the hospital an eerie fear came over her and she recalls that her instincts told her Jorden’s injuries would be worse than just a broken limb.

Once she reached the hospital she found the five young men who’d brought her son to the ER sobbing, and the reality of her nightmare began to unfold. The sight of them shedding tears plunged her into a panic. Susan’s memory, she says, is a bit blurred as she went into emotional overdrive trying to process what Dr. Chris Flynn – the ER doctor on duty – was saying.

“Jorden has substantial bleeding around the brain, which we need to stop. I don’t want to mislead you,” she remembers Dr. Flynn telling her. “This is a very bad situation,” he continued, before asking, “Is his father here? You need to call him and he needs to come right away.”

Retelling the story brings back the pain and tears on her face as she wondered what had happened to her beautiful son who she had spoken to maybe 90 minutes before. Some of the last words to him were: “wear a helmet.”

The evening began at one of Jorden’s friend’s houses. Summer had just begun and they were boys out being boys, skateboarding, hanging out, slightly giddy that school was out and this would be the beginning of many summer nights ahead.

As the story unfolded in the ER, Jorden and another boy had been skateboarding the hills around Montecito after dark. The other boys were driving behind them in a car watching. No one was really clear exactly what Jorden may have hit in the road, but whatever it was he took a substantial fall. Remarkably, Jorden stood up after the fall, and the boys came over to check him out for cuts. Jorden was talking the whole time and assured his friends he was fine but that he “couldn’t see out of his right eye.”

According to Susan, this is where the “miracle” begins. These five young men had the common sense, despite knowing they were breaking curfew and several other rules, to understand that Jorden needed medical attention right away. Quickly, and despite Jorden's protestations, they put him in the car and headed to the ER. Jorden was uncooperative and very concerned that he was in deep trouble with his mom because he had not worn his helmet as she had admonished him to do just a short time before. By the time they arrived at Cottage, however, Jorden was in and out of consciousness and only barely able to respond.

Chronology of a Crisis

His medical odyssey began with CT scans and full body x-rays. The first surgery to stop the bleeding around the brain takes place at 2:30 am, performed by Dr. Thomas Jones. Four hours later, Bill and Susan Tuthill and their son’s friends sit in breathless anticipation of the outcome. Despite urging them to go home and rest, Jorden’s friends refuse to leave.

Dr. Jones reports they have been able to get the bleeding to stop, and that the surgical team had removed a portion of Jorden’s skull in order to allow his brain to swell without further injury. It is 7 am and they finally convince the boys to go home. Jorden, medically paralyzed and in an induced coma, is moved to Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

About 9 am, Jorden is taken down for a new CT scan and the medical team discovers he has experienced additional and substantial bleeding at the top of his brain in a region sometimes referred to as “no man’s land” because so little is known about it. Upon learning that the local specialist needed to help control the bleeding was in Europe, and wanting a “perfect team” to perform the procedure, Dr. Jones suggests it would be better to airlift Jorden to UCLA or Stanford.

The Tuthills begin communicating with UCLA and Stanford, but worry that airlifting Jorden could prove more dangerous than simply leaving him where he is; they decide to put theirs son’s life in the hands of Dr. Jones.

Jones agrees to move ahead and the OR team is readied. Jorden slips through the Operating Room doors and Susan and Bill wait a most excruciating wait.

Friends begin showing up at the hospital to wait with the Tuthills. About an hour and half before surgery is expected to finish, Dr. Jones walks into the waiting room. Jorden is out of surgery; the procedure has gone better than expected and the doctor is pleased with the results.

They wait for Jorden to return to the ICU, settle in for the night, and wait for what will happen when their son wakes up, if he does.

During the first 24 hours, Jorden’s vital signs remain strong and the surgeon decides to bring him out of the medically induced coma. The Tuthills are told it is “important to bring patients ‘up’ as soon as possible and find the place where they are sedated as little as possible without causing seizures.”

By 11 am the respiratory therapist is working with Jorden to slowly begin withdrawal of each of the drugs, carefully monitoring his physical reactions. He comes up as if he had been having a relaxing sleep! Everyone is amazed and thrilled with his response. Before long, Jorden is asked is he can hear what is being said and if so, could he give the “thumbs up.”

His thumb moves up.

Tears flow and Susan and Bill have their first glimmer of hope that things may work out. By 3:30 pm, June 23, Jorden is out of his coma, breathing entirely on his own. Susan and Bill are cautioned that recovery from brain injuries are long recoveries, colored by great uncertainty. They should expect little, and are told to be prepared for a marathon and that patience will be needed “in spades.”

The staff at Cottage courteously provided information and encouragement. They outlined Jorden’s injury to the Tuthills and told them about the area most affected. They were told their son may not initially be able to speak, swallow, walk, feed, or take care of himself, but that he could – would – learn to do it all again.

Jorden, however, isn’t going to follow expectations. Within moment of removing his breathing tube he demands to see his mom. Not only can he speak, he knows what he wants and what he doesn’t want.

Thus, began the series of minor miracles that continued to unfold around this accident. By the week’s end, Jorden is getting out of bed, walking the halls, and eating regular food that his friends and family bring him. He was clearly weak on his left side and had much effort ahead of him to reach full recovery.

His attitude remains positive, and friends continue to be at his side regularly, in spite of his oft times non-responsiveness and his tendency to fall asleep without warning. Jorden’s cell phone buzzed regularly with texts from friends. Susan and Bill’s spirits were lifted by the community support that guided them and provided for them through the darkest hours of Jorden’s ordeal. They were never alone and, perhaps more importantly, never lonely.

“The boys – Ethan Terry, Nick Dealy, Benito Najera, Trey Barrett, and Garrett Davis – who have known Jorden since elementary school at MUS and Santa Barbara Junior High are the true heroes in this story,” say the Tuthills. The possibilities of what could have been had Jorden’s friends not provided the selfless response of bringing their son to Cottage immediately and quickly, sends shivers down Susan’s spine. The boys, she believes (along with the medical team, of course), saved Jorden’s life. A couple of minutes of hesitation, a slightly delayed decision, and Jorden’s life would have simply been a memory. Instead, these boys, these lifelong friends, offered the Tuthills an opportunity to laugh again with Jorden, to share the beautiful days of fall, to celebrate Thanksgiving and the upcoming Christmas season.

A Warning

Susan and Bill hope that Jorden’s accident will be a warning that will make other children aware of the value of helmets. They may not be fashion statements but they certainly look better than a young person trying to fight paralysis in order to get to the bathroom. They might mess up your hair a little, but then again so does more than 100 stitches in your head.

Jorden is extremely fortunate. ‘The word “miracle” is not used around him lightly, but he is, in fact, a miracle: a living, breathing, and miraculously alive, 16-year-old boy, back in school, and fully the young man he always was. Such “miracles” are rare.

A lesson learned is that any time someone hits his head in a fall, get him to a hospital, just to be safe. Jorden had only two very small abrasions on his elbows after his fall –nothing to indicate the life threatening injury that he actually suffered. The boys listened to him complaining that he could not see out of his right eye and decided to take him to the emergency room, right away.

“Anyone who reads about Nick, Ethan, Trey, Benito, and Garrett,” says Susan, “must recognize the miracle of their actions and reactions. It was past curfew; they were teenagers together in a car without an adult; they had everything to lose... They are angels. They are angels among us,” she concludes.

Jorden Tuthill Update

As of this writing, Jorden – except for some short-term memory problems and reading a bit slower – is absolutely 100% Jorden. Children’s Miracle Network (CMN), the local group, has filmed Jorden and interviewed his parents. Recently, the national CMN has picked up the story and is coming with a film crew to document the entire incident, including a re-enactment of ‘that night.’ It is the hope of CMN to illustrate how much individuals acting quickly and responsibly can impact the outcome of incidents such as this. According to local representative Audrie Krause, CMN through its fundraising efforts, enables hospitals like Cottage to make Pediatric and Prenatal ICU units possible. Audrie told Susan that without CMN funds these lifesaving units would not be available in this community.