“Grandma’s house” is one of the places a parent feels safest leaving their child for the weekend. That was the case with Ernie Armijo III when his parents left him at his grandmother’s house one weekend.
When Sunday came around Ernie began complaining of a headache. Not finding this too out of the ordinary, his grandmother told him to rest. About an hour later, she realized that Ernie was passed out and unresponsive. She immediately called his parents.
The Armijo’s, who were at church when Ernie’s grandmother called in a panic, rushed to retrieve Ernie. By the time they had arrived at the house an ambulance was there with emergency technicians at Ernie’s side. He wasn’t breathing and had a very small pulse. He was then rushed to Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach for treatment.
Upon arrival, there were about 20 care team members ready to rush Ernie in for treatment. While in the emergency room, Ernie went into cardiac arrest, but the care team was able to restore his heart function.
Not wasting any time, Ramin Javahery, M.D., medical director, pediatric neurosurgery, Miller Children's, ordered an MRI for Ernie’s brain and soon discovered two ruptures in the back of his brain and a hemorrhage on the right side of his brain. Ernie went into emergency surgery to fix the hemorrhage and ruptures.
“Having this happen so suddenly was the most frightening thing I had ever been through,” says
Ernie Armijo Jr. “I put my complete trust in Dr. Javahery and his team to help save my son. I told him to do what he had to, and treat him as if it were his son, in that operating room.”
After four hours of surgery, Dr. Javahery told the Armijo’s that he had done all he could, but his surgery alone would not be enough to give Ernie a full recovery.
Two weeks passed with Ernie in a coma in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Miller Children’s. The care team continued to treat Ernie for cerebral edema — brain swelling, and was able to get him in stable condition. Ernie regained consciousness and opened his eyes a few days later.
Almost immediately, the Pediatric Rehabilitation care team from Miller Children’s went to work utilizing a technique called coma stimulation. By administering cognitive testing early, the care team was able to assess Ernie’s level of consciousness through a series of questions that he answered by blinking. The care team used this knowledge to create a solid treatment plan for the days and weeks to come.
“Through coma stimulation, we are able to capitalize on the early stages of recovery by stimulating specific parts of the brain, which help promote brain reorganization,” says Lisa Fasnacht-Hill, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, Miller Children’s. “This approach to treatment utilizes the entire rehabilitation team in devising a treatment plan specific to each patient's needs.”
Throughout the two months Ernie was in the hospital, he underwent intensive rehabilitation, which included physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and music therapy. Physical therapists helped Ernie regain control of his body through carefully planned exercises while occupational therapists helped Ernie optimize his independence to carry out normal daily activities. Speech therapists worked with Ernie by having him use expressive language to communicate his needs rather than gestures.
Two months later, Ernie was discharged from Miller Children’s and able to walk out of on his own. After leaving the hospital, Ernie continued physical therapy in the outpatient clinic for six months. Six times a week, Ernie worked to regain complete control of his balance and overall strength and endurance.
Ernie is now back to being the active kid he once was. He has since completed the Long Beach 5K Run/Walk and enjoys playing soccer and doing cool tricks on his scooter.
“We went back to see Dr. Javahery for a follow up MRI and were surprised to find out that his brain function is now completely normal,” says Ernie Armijo Jr. “I truly believe that without the immediate attention of the Pediatric Rehabilitation Program my son would not have fully recovered.”