Boy Survives Near-Fatal ATV Crash
It was the middle of peach season and Chalmers Carr had just finished a day’s work on his family’s peach farm in Ridge Spring, South Carolina. The 12-year-old, who regularly drove one of the farm’s forklifts, was accustomed to doing his part and putting in a full day’s work. On one of these hot July days, Chalmers checked to make sure there was no more work to be done and then jumped on his ATV to head back to the nearby family home.
He neglected to wear his helmet.
Sometime later, two of the farm’s workers happened upon Chalmers and his overturned vehicle on their way home, and ran back for help. Although he was alert when his dad, Chal, got to him, Chalmers was severely injured, with a portion of his cranial bone cracked and exposed, and one ear nearly torn off.
“We think he was thrown off, and that the rim of a tire hit him in the head behind his right ear,” explains his mom, Lori Anne. Another farm employee, a firefighter, recognized the extent of the pre-teen’s injuries and called for a med-vac. The boy flat-lined a couple of times before the helicopter arrived, but ambulance workers were able to revive him.
Chalmers was airlifted to Children’s Hospital of Georgia, where the chief of pediatric critical care medicine, Dr. Tony Pearson-Shaver, and others rushed to determine the extent of his injuries, quickly putting him on life-support.
“He had two skull fractures and was a blunt and unstable trauma,” explains Dr. Pearson-Shaver. “His responses were not what we wanted them to be.”
CT scans showed the extent of the boy’s injuries.
“They were severe enough that we knew he might not survive,” says Dr. Pearson-Shaver. “We were poised to do everything humanly possible, but given this kind of injury, sometimes children just don’t survive. We were straightforward about it.”
“Dr. Pearson-Shaver was there when we arrived, he was there forever,” Lori Anne says gratefully. “The team told us the first 48 hours would be crucial. The next few days were very blurry.”
Surgeons closed up the back of Chalmers’ cranial bone with the help of four titanium plates, and reattached his ear.
Interestingly, leech therapy was successful at cleaning and thinning the congested blood around his wound.
When drainage failed to manage Chalmers’ intracranial pressure (ICP), doctors put the young boy into a medically induced coma to suppress metabolic brain activity and speed healing.
“Everything was very dark and we were very afraid,” recalls Lori Anne. Throughout it all, the family relied on prayers from their tight-knit community of family and friends.
After a few days, the team attempted to remove the ventilator, but Chalmers crashed.
“That was one of the amazing times I saw Dr. Pearson-Shaver go into action,” remembers Lori Anne. “I had asked him to treat Chalmers as if he was his own child, and I never had any doubt that’s what he did.”
Chalmers remained in a coma for 17 days before doctors slowly weaned him from medication. Listening to his iPod in his good ear seemed to help.
“It was amazing. If the playlist ended or the earphone fell from his ear, his ICP would rise,” says his mom. “Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift aided in his recovery.”
Gradually, Chalmers improved and the medical team was able to back off on some of the medicines.
“We continued to have complete faith in the phenomenal medical team,” says Lori Anne. “What was so wonderful for us was that, because Georgia Regents Medical Center is a teaching hospital, the doctors rounded with students who were learning and asking questions. They were accustomed to explaining things. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to listen and learn, and it made it easier for us to ask questions, too.”
After 23 days, Chalmers left the hospital, entering a rehab center in Atlanta where he had to work hard for six weeks to re-learn basic skills like walking, talking and eating.
“Children’s Hospital of Georgia treats three to four seriously injured ATV accident victims each summer,” says Dr. Pearson-Shaver, “and twice as many who are not as badly injured.”
“ATVs are not as safe and stable as people think they are,” he cautions.
“Children should not be on ATVs whether they’re in helmets or not. ATVs are inherently unsafe and require skill and training to ride. If kids ride ATVs, they should ride under parental supervision and definitely wear helmets.”
“Chalmers was lucky,” warns Dr. Pearson-Shaver.
“We’ve got a full trauma team that allows us to care for children like Chalmers, with any vital organ or bone injury. We offer the full gamut of pediatric and surgical specialties, with an intensive care unit that’s totally equipped to care for patients with organ system failure.”
Chalmers, now an advocate for helmet-wearing, is fully recovered, 13 years old and in the seventh grade. He is back to golfing and shooting sporting clays, and in July you’ll find him back at the peach farm at his forklift job.
“I’ve come a long way — I’m thankful for all the prayers that I received,” says the young teen, who advises kids in similar situations to trust in the Lord.
Anthony L. Pearson-Shaver, MD, MHSA
Pediatric Critical Care Medicine
Children’s Hospital of Georgia
Georgia Regents Medical Center