Heads bowed in prayer over a hospital bed before it was whisked away to the operating room; it is the calm in the middle of a storm no one saw coming.
Two weeks before, Matthew was preparing for a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fair with his middle school. Then, he came down with a fever. He tested positive for the flu at a visit to his pediatrician.
A week later he should have been feeling better. Instead it was much worse.
Matthew was running a high fever, not eating and complained of a headache so terrible he wanted to cry. His pediatrician and the local emergency room prescribed antihistamines and migraine medications, but nothing seemed to help. Despite best efforts his headaches just wouldn’t go away.
Distressed and worried, Matthew and his family made the drive from Tampa to St. Petersburg to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital for another evaluation.
It was the nurses in the Emergency Center who first recognized that something was very wrong. Matthew was struggling to get on the scale–a simple task that should not have been a problem for the young athlete. Not only was he hard to wake up, but he also had developed severe weakness on one side of his body. A nurse with a sharp eye alerted doctors and within minutes a team working to find an answer surrounded him.
In a flurry of activity, Matthew was rushed to imaging for scans of his brain. Then, finally, an answer–but there was no sigh of relief yet.
“I almost passed out. My knees buckled and one of the nurses caught me,” recalls Laurie, his mom. “I couldn’t believe it.”
The scans showed an infection surrounding one side of Matthew’s brain. The team estimated there was at least 6 ounces of fluid pushing on his brain - about the same volume as a small can of soda.
Gerald Tuite, M.D., the neurosurgeon leading Mathew’s care, recommended emergency surgery to drain the fluid. Time was of the essence.
“If we had waited six more hours Matthew would have been gone,” Laurie adds, fighting back her emotions over the close call.
During the next two weeks Matthew and his family were under the watchful eye of Johns Hopkins All Children’s staff. A post-surgery seizure posed a setback. Matthew remained resilient as he worked with both physical therapy and occupational therapy to help him regain his strength and mobility.
“I would look up at the hospital and know that there were people all across the building working to help Matthew,” Laurie recalls. “The teamwork was incredible.”
While Matthew’s care team was working to get him back to good health, there was one question that remained. Would he be able to finish the school year?
After something so traumatic, it seemed likely that he wouldn’t be able to return to his school that year. Patient Academic Services at Johns Hopkins All Children's stepped in to provide information on the Hospital Homebound program to help Matthew keep up with his studies at his own pace. Matthew proved everyone wrong, however. With an excellent team helping his recovery, he returned to school at the end of March and finished his first year of middle school with straight A’s.
Not only did he go back to school, he’s back to riding rollercoasters, swimming and playing basketball with friends. If it wasn’t for the ongoing daily seizure medication and periodic MRI scans, no one would ever know of Matthew’s near-disastrous infection.
“We were definitely in the best place possible,” Laurie says. “We are eternally grateful for Dr. Tuite and all the doctors and nurses who cared for Matthew.”