Teenager Given Second Chance at Life Following Traumatic ATV Accident
By: Miranda Torres
Kevin Valdez, 15, was riding ATVs with his friends on July 9, 2023 when his life changed forever. Despite being warned not to ride the four-wheeler and to avoid driving on main roads, Kevin drove off without informing his loved ones. In the middle of the ride, he was caught off guard by an object ahead of him, and slammed his breaks to avoid running it over. The force from the abrupt stop launched him 50 feet. His Life360 app alerted his mom of a crash, which is how he was found.
“All of Kevin’s friends were older than him and had their licenses, but he was only 14 and had never driven on the streets with cars before, which is why I didn’t want him riding the ATV that day,” said Ileana Matos, Kevin’s mom. “It all happened so fast, I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening.”
Kevin was rushed to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson South, but was then airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial due to the severity of his injuries, which included a traumatic brain injury (TBI), brain swelling, and a broken femur.
“I remember being in such shock that I raced to Ryder Trauma to meet the helicopter. We got there so fast that I watched the helicopter land knowing my son was inside,” Matos said. “That was the last time I was behind the wheel of a car since.”
Because of the TBI, Kevin was in a coma for more than a month and temporarily paralyzed on his left side. Heather McCrea, MD, PhD, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Holtz Children’s Hospital, and a UHealth – University of Miami Health System pediatric neurosurgeon, and the pediatric neurosurgery team placed a pressure monitor to optimize medical management and reduce his intracranial pressure, which would be key to preventing further brain injury.
Kevin’s brain pressure wasn’t stable enough to undergo the orthopedic surgery needed to correct his broken femur until three weeks post-accident. Brian Black, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Holtz Children’s, was able to operate on the fracture via a small incision in the hip. After having his broken femur corrected, Kevin was able to bear weight on his leg again, which allowed him to start inpatient rehabilitation care.
After being discharged from Holtz Children’s in September 2023, he was admitted to an inpatient facility in Jacksonville, FL that catered to pediatric rehabilitation patients with more serious cognitive deficits. While there, Matos was dedicated to getting Kevin to “emerge” – a term used in the rehabilitation field that signifies a person has regained their ability to interact, be alert, and be aware of their surroundings by responding and voluntarily participating in therapies. A month later, Kevin regained consciousness and qualified for acute inpatient rehab therapy at Holtz Children’s.
He began his stay in November 2023, undergoing physical, occupational, and speech therapies six days a week under the guidance of Joslyn Gober, DO, medical director of pediatric rehabilitation medicine at Christine E. Lynn Rehabilitation Center for The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at UHealth/Jackson Memorial.
When he started his inpatient stay, Kevin was immobile, unable to speak or communicate, and required maximum assistance to perform everyday tasks. Thanks to his family’s support and work with Lynn Rehabilitation Center’s Kyle Zreibe, pediatric physical therapist, Kiara Cespedes, pediatric occupational therapist, and Brenda Coba, pediatric speech therapist, Kevin has improved significantly. He has regained use of his left side and voluntarily does activities with his left hand, can communicate with technologies like tablets and keyboards, and went from exclusively eating via a GI tube to following a mechanical soft diet and feeding himself.
“Ileana is a great advocate for her child. She is top notch when it comes to advocating and asking the right questions,” said Zreibe and Cespedes. “She really pushed to get him whatever he needed, and she definitely deserves a lot of the credit for his improvement.”
Kevin was discharged from Holtz Children’s in December 2023, and has continued to receive outpatient therapy with his team at Lynn Rehabilitation Center.
“I owe my son’s life to the team at Jackson,” Matos said. “I will never tire of thanking them for being so insistent with his care and saving his life. I have no words to thank the therapists at Lynn Rehabilitation Center and care teams at Holtz Children’s for everything they’ve done.”