A Student’s Phenomenal Recovery After Horrific Brain Injury and What it Means for TBI Sufferers- The Dylan Williams’ Story

Sirens rang out at 8:30pm in Medford, Massachusetts in early November of 2012 when an ambulance was dispatched to a Pedestrian accident at Powder House Boulevard and Packard Avenue.   21-year old Dylan Williams had just been struck by a car in the crosswalk.   The college junior was walking home from the Tufts University Library when he entered a crosswalk with a blinking yellow pedestrian signal summoning him to walk.  A distracted driver raced right through the intersection hitting Williams with such a force that his head went through the front of the driver’s windshield.

Rush hour had come and gone.  The low traffic level at that hour allowed paramedics to immediately respond to the scene.  Without traffic delays, Dylan was able to make it to the hospital within a half hour. He was taken to one of the best hospitals for brain injury patients, Massachusetts General, which has a top-rated intensive care unit dedicated exclusively to neuroscience.

With such extensive brain injuries, this immediate response and quick transport action was just the first in a string of a very ideal set of circumstances that set Dylan up for the best possible outcome.

Dylan Williams, (Family Photo from the Washington Post) a young man who made an extraordinary comeback against TBI and gives doctors a new hopeful perspective when dealing with similar brain injury victims.  

Vital Care

The skilled team of doctors immediately started fighting for his brain, inserting a tube to drain blood and fluids to relieve intracranial pressure.  If this pressure had not been alleviated, it would have caused irreparable long-lasting damage to his brain and organs.

While in a coma, Dylan underwent an MRI, less than 24 hours after his injury, which allowed doctors to get a 3-D picture of what happened to his brain when he was hit.   They found that there was extensive damage at the cellular level.  Dylan had suffered a rotational-injury, more specifically was “grade III diffuse axonal injury,” where his brain actually twisted and bounced around inside of his skull, severing and tearing nerves and vital fibers of the brain. His internal communications systems had been shut down because those nerve fibers could no longer transmit necessary electrical impulses.  The MRI scan also showed that though his neo-cortex was mostly un-injured, there were several dark patches near the brain stem, indicating injury to the areas governing arousal and alertness.  From this scan, doctors gathered that if he ever did wake up he would likely need constant care to eat, dress and bathe.

“All we could do was wait and hope, said Dylan’s mother, Rebecca Williams.  “Days went by. Dylan’s cranial pressure was being successfully controlled, which was a very good sign, but his comatose state was terrifying. Every four hours doctors repeated a seemingly cruel physical exam: they yelled Dylan’s name into his ears, pinched his arms, scraped the bottoms of his feet. They pried open his eyes and shone a bright light into them. There was no response. No sight is more chilling than looking into eyes you know so well and finding an immovable stare.” (Williams, Rebecca, Washington Post, September 15, 2014)

Eight days after the incident that put him in a coma, Dylan opened his eyes.  The next day he wiggled his toes.  At three weeks, he was using sign language and gestures and writing on a pad to communicate. Shortly after, he began to speak.

Love and Support

Each of these baby steps was greeted with great celebration by his audience which included an entourage of friends and family pulling for him daily.  Friends, housemates, and fraternity brothers showed up daily for a two-months bedside vigil and personal cheerleading team— holding hands, praying, playing games, reading and singing to Dylan.  A few close friends took a leave of absence from school and from studying abroad so that they could sit with Dylan every day.  Doctors and family now believe that giving Dylan this lively and supportive atmosphere that he was accustomed to was highly effective in bolstering his personal recovery, warding off depression and helping with the formation of new neuropathways in his brain.

Youth and Stimulation

Studies have shown that youth is a critical factor in neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to form new connections to compensate for ones that get blocked or severed, to partially repair injured pathways and even repurpose parts of the brain for different use.  Dylan’s internal persistence and determination in the pursuit of his goals coupled with his youth may have been another piece of the puzzle which led to his extraordinary comeback.

Engaging socially and being mentally stimulated, doctors say, is instrumental in making cells reach out and form new synapses in the brain as opposed to being unstimulated and mentally passive.  During his recovery, Dylan’s constant stimulation and will to continue learning from the time he woke from his coma became like oxygen to his lungs.  “He spent hours at home on brain-training software, played endless word and strategy games with his friends, practiced his viola to improve bilateral coordination and motor skills,” says his mother.

Three years after a long, challenging recovery for all involved, Dylan, now 24, and a college graduate is working as a stock researcher for a Financial Group in Boston and cherishing everyday living with his amazing brain.  According to neurologist Brian Edlow, associate director of Mass General’s Neuro Technology Trials Unit, who worked with Dylan case, “If you had asked 100 doctors who were experts in TBI if they thought he was going to be Phi Beta Kappa, probably all 100 would have said no.  Then, when I tell them how well he is doing, everyone is just shocked and humbled, and at the very least rethinks their assessment of the patient before them.”

Learning to Cope with A Traumatic Brain Injury

After a wreck, severe traumatic brain injury is one of the most devastating types of injuries victims and their families might ever have to deal with as they are highly unpredictable, unforgiving, and different for each sufferer.  It’s important to look deeply into each story of recovery as they provide very important information which can begin to shape how different types of TBI are addressed from the moment they occur through the span of the entire recovery process.

Generally, after a patient has finally made their way home after a long stay at the hospital or rehab facility they are far from out of the woods.  As if the injured victim and their family had not already been through enough, a new very emotional journey begins at home learning to cope with TBI.  Trying to understand what is normal, what to expect, what to dismiss, what to be concerned about, and what behaviors to encourage or limit.

While sufferers deal with the many manifestations of TBI symptoms like cognitive and motor skill impairment, amnesia, troubles with activities of daily living, depression, anxiety, rage and suicidal tendencies, caregivers grapple continually with the emotional rollercoaster of trying to care for someone whom they can’t always help— someone whom they can’t make better.   Caregivers are often mourning the loss of the person their loved one used to be while trying to support who they have become.  It’s an ongoing balancing act trying to juggle how much is too much grieving, when to be strong, and when to be hopeful.

For Dylan Williams, it would appear that everything lined up in order to give him a fighting chance and make what is considered today to be, a highly unfathomable recovery.  Taking notice of these specific sets of circumstances which led to his miraculous recovery, and building innovations and treatment concepts around his improbable TBI story may give other sufferers that same fighting chance where before there may have only been heartache and lost hope.

If you or your loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury or other serious injury as a result of a car wreck or because of someone’s carelessness, call the Rocky McElhaney Law Firm.  We have specific experience in helping victims of TBI and their families build a more hopeful future.  We fight the big insurance companies for what our client’s deserve for their injuries— the maximum financial compensation that could make a difference between just getting by and the striving for the fullness of recovery.  Contact our compassionate and aggressive personal injury and traumatic brain injury lawyers today.  We fight for you. (615) 425-2500