It Takes a Team: Thankful to be Alive



Kourtney Hurst with Dr. Laura B. Ngwenya, MD, PhD

Photography provided by UC Health

 

On the 11th of each month, Kourtney Hurst celebrates another 30 days of her new life. Hurst, 27, thanks God; Laura B. Ngwenya, MD, PhD, director of the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute; and the center’s top-notch neurotrauma care team for the successful repair of her brain, severely injured when her pickup truck skidded on black ice and plowed into a telephone pole early on the morning of January 11, 2017. Hurst, a cardiac catheter lab nurse at a nearby hospital, was on her way to work when the split-second accident happened a mere 1.3 miles from her house.

“I am just thankful to be alive,” says the affable, talkative Hurst. “My doctors were absolute miracle workers. I went back to the hospital on my one-year anniversary just to personally thank everyone and hang out for a while. They are the reason I am still here. I was so excited to see Dr. Ngwenya. She never gave up on me. She fixed my brain! I will be grateful to all of them forever.”

Hurst is also excited about another miracle – she and her husband, Brandon, are expecting their first child, a baby girl, in June. “That’s something we thought could never happen,” Hurst notes. “They told us that with the resulting pituitary problems and my hormones being off because of the accident, I may not be able to get pregnant.”

The ecstatic, albeit incredulous, couple had the blood work done three times to make sure it was right, Hurst adds with a chuckle. “The baby is good! I am good! Things are great!”

Hard to fathom that this spirited, irrepressible mom-to-be was once lying broken and motionless on a gurney in the trauma bay at UC Medical Center.

 

When Seconds Count

The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) – the most common scoring system used to describe the level of consciousness in a person following a traumatic brain injury – is numbered between 3 and 15, 3 being the worst and 15 the best.

Hurst’s GCS in the trauma bay was 3.

“When Kourtney arrived, the trauma bay was notified immediately,” Ngwenya recalls. “On her imaging we saw she had a bleed on her brain,” indicating she must be taken at once to the operating room. She also required emergency surgery for multiple other brain and orthopaedic injuries. “It took a big team effort to get Kourtney back to health.”

Ngwenya, an assistant professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the UC College of Medicine, joined UC Health in 2016. A graduate of Rutgers University and Boston University Medical School, Ngwenya completed her neurological surgery residency training at The Ohio State University in Columbus, and her neurotrauma fellowship training at University of California San Francisco.

“Since UC Medical Center is Greater Cincinnati’s only Level 1 Trauma Center, our team is prepared to handle anything at anytime: 24/7/365,” she says. The neurotrauma team is ready to act in a moment’s notice, offering the fastest and most extensive critical care in the region. With mild and severe head injuries, every second counts.

The UC Neurotrauma Center’s multidisciplinary team, using the newest technologies and clinical therapies, is committed to maximizing patients’ chances of returning to a fully functioning life.

“Kourtney was very fortunate,” Ngwenya concludes. Neurotrauma treatment and care requires more research so that even more patients have positive outcomes like Kourtney’s. “With my research background, it’s a great opportunity to use my expertise to help advance this field.”

Celebrating Her Lifeday

Hurst’s head apparently hit the driver’s-side window when the pickup driver’s-side door hit the telephone pole. Emergency crews busted out windows and pried open doors, pulled Kourtney to safety and rushed her by ambulance to the closest emergency room. She was immediately transferred by ambulance to UC Medical Center.

In addition to the brain bleed, Hurst also suffered multiple skull fractures, broken facial bones, and a broken neck. Her right clavicle was split in two pieces. She sustained a fractured left leg. They discovered an abnormal connection between an artery in her neck and the network of veins at the back of her left eye. Both lungs were punctured; her spleen was lacerated.

Hurst was released from UC Medical Center about two weeks later. With rods, screws and plates in her left leg and clavicle, and her neck in a brace, Hurst then entered Health South Northern Kentucky where she tackled physical and occupational therapy for several months. She had to learn to walk again, and she sought counseling for occasional post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Nevertheless, Hurst remains determined and upbeat.

“January 11 is a new birthday for me. We call it my lifeday,” says Hurst. Hence, a green ribbon – the emblem for Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness – marks each 11th-day-of-the-month celebration on her kitchen calendar. April’s green ribbon signifies 15 months of new life, a journey filled with momentous milestones. She is back to working fulltime, happily engages in one of her former athletic pastimes – running – and now, miracle of miracles, there’s that baby girl on the way.

“I can’t wait to take her to see Dr. Ngwenya!” Hurst exclaims with gleeful anticipation.

It’s but one more joyful celebration of new life she looks forward to marking on her kitchen calendar. 

 

UC Neurotrauma Center patients are seen at several locations in Cincinnati. For more information, call the Neurotrauma TBI Hotline at 513.584.2804 or visit www.uchealth.com/neurotrauma/.