Many would describe it as a parent’s worst nightmare. Ashley Shaeffer and her three sons were driving home from daycare one evening in June 2017 when everything changed. They were involved in a car accident where all three boys were ejected from the vehicle. The two younger boys escaped with just scratches, but the oldest, Austin, was seriously hurt.
Austin, who was just eight years old, was rushed to the Emergency and Trauma Center, Kent Campus. He had severe injuries to his brain and skull including swelling and fractures. He was also in a deep coma and wasn’t displaying significant reflexes. The team in the emergency department worked quickly to get Austin ready for surgery with Bayhealth Neurosurgeon James Mills, MD.
“We thought we were going to have to say goodbye; it was just unimaginable,” said Ashley “I remember being terrified. But I’ll never forget how amazing Dr. Mills was. He explained everything to me before he took care of Austin. I knew Austin was in good hands.”
“This was a situation that required us to immediately resolve the increasing brain pressure,” said Dr. Mills. “Every minute mattered. Without the coordination of care between EMS, the emergency department staff, the operating room team, and the team at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, the outcome may have been different. I know that we were able to save Austin’s life because of the level of care we provide in combination with all of the teamwork.”
At the end of the emergency surgery, the team from Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children met Dr. Mills in the operating room, and transported Austin from there to the children’s hospital in Wilmington. Austin would spend nearly a year up north in the hospital and undergoing therapy for his rehabilitation. Austin had several follow-up surgeries and also had to relearn many skills, including walking, talking, eating, and swallowing.
“Austin was such an active kid before the accident. He couldn’t sit still,” said Ashley. “When he was first told things may be different afterwards, he didn’t want to accept it. He was determined he was going to do everything he used to be able to do.”
Now 10, Austin has made an impressive recovery. He loves to run, ride his bike and play baseball. He also loves school and playing with his little brothers. “Austin’s doctors are just amazed by his recovery. They can’t believe how much he is able to do,” said Ashley. “There were so many people along the way who said Austin would never walk or talk again. But they didn’t know just how determined Austin is. We call him our ‘Superman,’ because nothing is keeping him down.”
Austin has all of his follow-up appointments with his care team at the children’s hospital in Wilmington. Recently, Ashley brought Austin to Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus so he could see Dr. Mills again and show off his recovery so far.
“I wanted to make sure we got the chance to see Dr. Mills again and say thank you,” said Ashley. “I know he’s a big reason why Austin is still here, and we’ll never forget that.”
“It was incredible seeing Austin again. Being able to see what a dramatic difference we can make in one person’s life makes it all worth it,” said Dr. Mills. “Austin is nothing short of a miracle. Seeing him now, seeing his progress, it’s simply remarkable.”
Visit Bayhealth.org/Neurosciences-Team to meet Dr. Mills and the rest of our highly trained neurosurgeons and skilled support staff.