Written by: Angie Murkins MSN, FNP-BC
Department of Neurocritical Care,
Stanford Health Care
Written by: Honey Beddingfield MSN, AG-ACNP, CCRN, CNRN
Department of Neurocritical Care
Stanford Health Care
Section EditorLauren Koffman, DO, MSAssistant Professor of Neurology, Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Temple UniversityPhiladelphia, PA
In 2021, Kaitlyn was a 27-year-old professional guide who had traveled to more than sixty-two countries. She had graduated from Cal State Fullerton, where she received a degree in Entrepreneurship and Business. After college she began her adventures around the globe, with a particular interest in physical outdoor activities including rock climbing and hiking.
Her latest endeavor led her to Bali, where she planned to open a travel business. After living in Bali for several months, Kaitlyn's world would change on July 31, 2021, when she was found unconscious on the side of the road, presumably having suffered a traumatic injury.
She was taken to Sanglah General Hospital, the largest hospital in Bali, where she was admitted to the intensive care unit and found to have a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). She was unable to breathe on her own and a drain was placed into her brain to relieve high pressure resulting from the injury and subsequent brain swelling. Head imaging showed multiple severe injuries, including bleeding into and around the brain, as well as a tear in the internal carotid artery, a major blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain. Not only were there neurologic injuries, but she unfortunately also sustained facial fractures, injuries to her cervical spine, and extensive blood clots in her left leg. Without a doubt, there would be a long road to recovery, and she was so far from home.
Initially Kaitlyn's local friends were allowed to visit her in the Bali hospital, but she was not awake to realize she had visitors. Unfortunately, Kaitlyn would test positive for COVID soon afterwards, and those visitors were no longer allowed. Kaitlyn's mother, Janine, was unable to get a visa in time to visit her prior to the COVID diagnosis, which meant they were limited to interacting over video. In the meantime, Janine started a GoFundMe account to help bring her daughter home to California, which required a transoceanic medical flight costing about $250,000. After successfully raising the necessary funds, Kaitlyn was flown to California, and for the first time since the accident, her family was able to see and touch her after she landed at the airport on August 18, 2021, 18 days after her initial injury. Kaitlyn was then taken directly to Stanford Health Care's Neuro Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
She remained hospitalized at Stanford for over two months while dealing with one crisis after another. The first obstacle to overcome was status epilepticus, with continuous seizures that required heavy sedation to manage and treat. Once the seizures were controlled, her medical team discovered she had developed a tracheoesophageal fistula, which required several surgeries and a long and painful recovery. Despite these challenges, Kaitlin became more and more conscious while in the hospital, and as she became more awake and aware of what was going on, she became overtaken by depression and could not imagine making it through the long road to recovery. In retrospect, she finds this hard to believe, as it is the opposite of her usual bright and positive spirit.
Kaitlyn cannot recall any memory of her hospitalization in Bali or Stanford but is able to remember being moved to a bright and sunny room in a rehabilitation center, which she thinks may have helped jumpstart her memories. After spending almost three months at Stanford, Kaitlyn was finally well enough to transfer to a respiratory rehabilitation center, where she still needed help with breathing and clearing her secretions. She stayed at this rehabilitation center for about six weeks and continued receiving intensive therapy for about three hours a day, five days a week. Once her breathing had improved, she was moved to an acute rehabilitation center, where she spent another month working intensely with therapy services for three hours a day, six days a week.
After rehab, life as Kaitlyn knew it had changed. When she was asked about what good things have come with her recovery, she first mentioned relearning how to swallow and getting her feeding tube taken out. After six months of having the feeding tube, Kaitlyn had set her mind to regaining her ability to swallow with the goal of getting her feeding tube out in one month, and she successfully did so within a day of her ambitious goal. However, she was initially disappointed to find that all food seemed to taste bad, and it took months for her to truly experience flavors again. Kaitlyn had also enjoyed wine prior to her injury, but she can now no longer drink alcohol due to interactions with her medications. However, once she was swallowing well and her feeding tube was removed, her speech therapist surprised her with a bottle of non-alcoholic wine, which has been a game changer for her recovery. She is now learning to enjoy and discover the large variety of non-alcoholic alternative drinks.
Although she has had to adjust to some new tastes and flavors, she has been able to participate in some other familiar activities since being discharged back home. She has become involved in Rehab Without Walls, an organization that brings rehabilitation out into the real world and which has helped Kaitlyn start rock climbing again.
Kaitlyn is now back at home and has a new priority—helping others. Kaitlyn has come full circle and is now reaching out to help other patients with traumatic brain injuries by sharing her experience. Although she joined a local brain injury support group, she felt that she needed support from survivors her own age. As a result, she started her own local brain injury support group for young adults aged 18-to-35 years old, called Beat the Bias. Not only do they have Facebook and Instagram pages (ig: @Beat.the.Bias) to encourage new membership, but a side group has been formed for caretakers as well. Kaitlyn truly enjoys spending time with her new friends and the positivity from this group has been amazing. Now, a year and a half removed from her injury, Kaitlyn is back at school taking college classes and continuing her pursuit of rock climbing. Despite her past, she is hopeful to return to Bali to make new memories. #fearlesstravelers