Level I Trauma Center Helps Two Area Teens Get Back in the Game
The crowd grew quiet as Chloe Campbell stepped up to the plate on a cool mid-October evening. The second baseman for the Marion County Warriors and the Chattanooga Blaze softball team slammed the first pitch to the left field fence. She went two for two that night.
That’s not surprising for Chloe. She’s been a strong athlete since age five. But 2015 has not been a normal year for Chloe, and her friend Blake Cooper, a junior and fellow athlete at nearby South Pittsburgh High School.
Ten months earlier, on Jan. 17, Blake and Chloe were riding with friends in an SUV to get something to eat after a Saturday night basketball game at Marion County High School. For some reason, the two in the back seat didn’t fasten their seatbelts. They always did, but not this night. Maybe it was the short drive to the restaurant. Maybe the distraction of talking about the night’s game. Suddenly the SUV they were riding in went out of control on a curve. Blake was thrown 25 to 50 feet through the air, and Chloe was pinned beneath the vehicle.
When she got the call no mother wants to get, Kristy Knoll-Hubbard knew Blake had the more serious injuries. The girl’s basketball coach and health sciences teacher at South Pittsburg High has also worked as an Emergency Room nurse for eight years at Erlanger. She knew from experience that the first to be transported always had the more serious injuries.
Kristy also knew first-hand the talents of Erlanger’s Level 1 trauma center, and most of the response team knew Kristy and Blake personally. Emergency Medical teams are a close-knit bunch – and Blake was an “Erlanger kid.” Having to be the “mommy” and not ER nurse – was hard for Kristy. But from day one, she was amazed by the poise under pressure that the friends on the trauma team showed in their clock-work response to Blake. It was strange to be on the other side, but Kristy knew Blake and Chloe were in the best possible hands.
“From the beginning, without the trauma center’s immediate response and amazing care every day – taking care of little things that needed to done – he would not have been set up for success.”
A New Appreciation for Erlanger
Erlanger’s trauma team discovered that both kids had spinal fractures in several places. Blake also suffered a traumatic brain injury with a cerebral hemorrhage and was in a coma. The doctors worked round-the-clock to reduce bleeding in his brain and intracranial pressure caused by swelling. They also worked to stabilize Chloe’s spine and installed a nasogastric tube due to her difficulty swallowing.
During this time Kristy – saw another side of the trauma team she worked closely with as an ER nurse. It gave her new appreciation of the Erlanger Level I trauma center.
“There were nights I would go in there and there would be a nurse at bedside,” Kristy said. “A lot of days Blake had one-on-one care, because he was that bad.” She recalls Dr. Robert Maxwell coming to Blake’s room in the middle of the night on six different occasions to “bronch” her son – to clear Blake’s lungs so he could breathe easily. She recalls how quickly Blake was taken to emergency surgery when a blood clot was discovered in his lower extremity.
For the parents and friends, it was a time of praying and waiting – a time you could feel helpless. So classmates back at the high school decided to do something helpful to honor their friends, they started a seatbelt safety campaign – “Buckle for Blake – Click for Chloe.” Nearly every student at South Pittsburg and Marion County high schools signed a contract to always wear seatbelts in honor of their two friends.
Meanwhile, good news emerged from the trauma center. Five days after the accident, Chloe passed a “swallow test.” Her swelling was going down – although she continued to have rough nights – with times of confusion. Then on Jan. 25, her family Facebook page shared, “Our miracle child is walking, talking, laughing and eating today.”
More good news came four days later when Blake emerged from the coma. Again, Kristy was amazed by the Trauma center’s perfect timing and attention to detail as her son came to consciousness. “They knew the exact right moment when he was trying to wake up and when they needed to put a trach in,” she said. The trach had to be installed in the precise moments before he awakened or the procedure would have caused too much stress for Blake.
“From moment one, anything that was emergent or immediate that he needed, he had within moments,” she said. “I can think of nothing they could have done any better. They were on it from moment one. A well-oiled machine.”
Getting back on the Field
Blake and Chloe worked hard in their therapy – overcoming daily struggles with short-term memory loss, swelling and pain. And both kids were soon released for multiple weeks of inpatient and outpatient therapy at the Shepherd Clinic in Atlanta for specialized brain and spinal injury rehabilitation.
A few months later, Kristy watched in tears when Blake threw out the first pitch at “First Responder’s Night” for the Chattanooga Lookouts at AT&T Field.
By mid-October, Chloe was again getting hits on the softball field, and Blake was practicing for basketball season. While football was out of the picture, he received medical clearance to play baseball and basketball. “They are both doing better than we ever thought,” Kristy said “And we owe that a lot to the staff in the Trauma Unit and at Erlanger.”
As a coach Kristy teaches that the importance of sports is not so much what’s on the scoreboard, but what it instills in participants – things like teamwork, stress tolerance and resourcefulness. They are values that helped Blake and Chloe through the most difficult year of their young lives. And they are attributes that describe the team that helped them through it – Erlanger’s level 1 trauma center.
“From the beginning, without the trauma center’s immediate response and amazing care every day and attention to the little things that needed to done,” Kristy says, “Blake would not have been set up for success. Had they not been on top of it and done so well in the beginning, he would not have been able to continue the miracle that God is allowing him to complete. From moment one, they were on top of it.”