By Colby Thelen
A four year old girl is alive and recovering, a week after a series brain injury nearly took her life.
Annie Nichols arrived at MUSC Children’s Hospital in critical condition, with little time to spare. She was lethargic with one pupil was dilated, the result of an epidural blood clot that was pressing on her brain.
It formed after an accident on Saturday afternoon. She and her younger brother were playing in the pool and a little bit of water leaked into the family garage. While running through the garage Annie slipped and hit her head on the concrete.
A little shaken up, she was brought inside and watched closely. A nurse, and friend of the family, checked for a concussion, but she seemed to be doing fine. Her father Billy says that she even got up and came outside with him while he grilled out.
45 minutes later she began screaming that her head hurt and wanted to close her eyes. Her parents knew it was time to take her to the hospital. They arrived at the Waccamaw Community Hospital and were immediately taken back for a cat scan.
Billy says what happened next was surreal.
“They immediately came out and said this is big, were going to need to airlift her to MUSC,” he said.
Turning to prayer, the family waited for the helicopter to arrive. It was a ride that was nearly unable to make it. It was booked for a call elsewhere, but that trip was canceled. It also appeared as if a storm would block their path, but it stalled in Florence long enough for them to pass.
“All those were signs from God for us,” says Billy.
When the helicopter arrived Annie was immediately rushed into the O.R. which was prepped and opened by the team of neurosurgeons, led by Dr. Stephen Kalhorn.
“She was as close to dying as you can get,” recalls Kalhorn. “She was knocking on deaths door.”
Removing the blood clot is a common procedure in their field, but he says removing it from the brain of a child with so much life ahead of her was a daunting task. But the staff moved quickly and efficiently, pulling back a small section of her skull, removing the blood clot and stopping the rapid flow of blood coming from a tiny puncture in her brain.
“I’d say within 15 minutes we had the epidural blood clot out of her head,” says Dr. Kalhorn. His eyes fill with tears as he goes on to talk about the efforts of his staff. “one of the most impressive concerted efforts to help a patient than I’ve ever seen,” he added, “it’s why we do what we do. It’s what we’re called to do.”
Annie has a long road to recovery ahead of her. It could be weeks or even months of rehabilitation and therapy.
Her dad now wears her favorite necklace around his wrist, waiting for the moment she is able to ask for it back, which he says she won’t hesitate to do when she is well. He says they are still amazed at the heroic efforts of all the parties involved. He now describes them as his miracle team.
As for Doctor Kalhorn, he says the operation’s success was like pitching a no hitter in the last game of the world series. He says he will be forever amazed by the staff and network of MUSC.
From here, Annie will go to a children’s hospital in Charlotte where she will undergo rehab. Her parents now pray that they’ll soon see their funny, happy child smiling and back to normal, and they say if this experience has taught them anything it’s the power of prayer.