A Mothers Unconditional Love
March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Since 2000, 350,000 service members have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). Here we highlight one of their stories.
For Kelly Eakins and her husband Mark, October 20, 2009 was supposed to be just another workday – until they got a call that their son Steven was badly injured in a car accident and on his way to Shannon Medical Center in San Angelo, Texas.
Both Kelly and Mark left work to reach their son.
Steven Eakins, a fourth generation member of the Air Force, left work that day at Lackland Air Force Base to wish his colleagues best of luck on their deployment. On his return trip to work he crashed into a backhoe on the highway at 65 mph, crushing his skull.
Steven wasn’t expected to make it through his first surgery – He has a severe traumatic brain injury and as a result of the accident, his skull penetrated part of his brain. Steven had over 100 facial fractures, broke his right clavicle, right upper arm and right shoulder.
Each day, doctors told Steven’s family that they would be lucky if they got another 24 hours.
“I told Steven’s doctors that luck has nothing to do with it, Steven is a fighter,” Kelly said.
Steven was medically induced into a coma so his body could rest, and spent the next few months making his way to the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa for long-term treatment.
Steven and his mom Kelly arrived in Tampa on July 2, 2010.
When Steven woke up from his coma, he was unable to care for himself. He was unable to walk or communicate.
Kelly and Mark made the decision that Kelly would quit her job and travel to Tampa to support their son. Of course, that choice was followed up with many questions. Where would I live? How would I afford it? Can I find something furnished? How close will it be to Steven?
“We didn’t know Tampa and were trying to figure out where to live,” Kelly said. “Mark and I decided to wait until we got to Tampa to figure it out. We found out we were able to get a room in the Fisher House right away. It was so helpful; I don’t know how we would have done it. Seriously. I do not know how we would have managed two households on one income.”
“The most important thing was to be close to the hospital so I could be with Steven doing rehab and taking him to his appointments,” Kelly continued. “I don’t know how much he understands, but I know he knows when I’m there. It has to make a difference.”
Kelly remained at the Fisher House with Steven for almost three years. Throughout Steven’s hospital stay, Kelly was just minutes away from her son. She had the comforts of home, and other families to help her through everything.
“The Fisher House has allowed me to be no more than seven minutes from Steven,” Kelly explained. “It allowed me to step away long enough for a meal or a shower with the reassurance I can be back by Steven's side within minutes in the case of him needing me. All of these things have been so important to Steven's recovery.”
“Another nice thing about Fisher House was getting to know the families. When I first got here, the majority of the families had patients on the same floor as Steven. I got to know them in both the home and hospital environment.”
Kelly has become Steven’s caregiver; she is trained to do just about anything Steven needs. She went through a fast track program at the VA that trains the family member to become a caregiver.
In a minimally conscious state, Steven is still aware of his surroundings. When Steven’s children came to visit, a daughter Sienna and son Asher, it was Sienna who was able to get the most out of her dad.
“Sienna is Steven’s little princess,” Kelly said. “It was when Sienna walked into Steven’s room in the hospital and said, ‘Hi Daddy’ that Steven turned his head.” Although separated from his wife, Steven’s children still visit regularly.
“I’ve met other families that are also dealing with stressful times. We share in triumphs and trials – we’ve done it all. We pray together and we rejoice together,” Kelly said. “You have your own space, but yet there is plenty of area to come together and develop relationships with the others.”
Just shy of her third anniversary at the Fisher House, Steven and Kelly were able to go home. Steven’s new VA hospital is the South Texas Veterans Health Care System. They went back home in June 2013.
Steven is still suffering from TBI and requires constant care, but Kelly and Mark are hopeful that being home will help Steven progress even more. He is closer to his children and lives near the hill country he has always dreamt of.
Through it all Kelly has been by her son’s side.
“That’s my job as his mom,” Kelly said. “He will always be my little boy.”