“Just met with neurosurgeon and trauma doctor…the pressure is now impacting the left side of his brain…doing all they can, but it does not look good. They say he either won’t make it or be in this coma state forever. I need to start thinking about (a decision). Please pray hard for a miracle. Brendan is still fighting.”
This post from May 29, 2019 was made seven days after Yvette Pacaccio’s son suffered a traumatic brain injury while riding an ATV. Brendan went from college-bound football player to fighting for his life. Fortunately, much has been added to the vigilant mom’s Facebook page, Brendan’s Miracle, since then. Through a multitude of prayers, his tenacity, committed caregivers and his family’s love, Brendan celebrated his 20th birthday in December of 2020.
During March, Brain Injury Awareness Month, Yvette is educating about her newfound cause. “The traumatic brain injury community is small but growing. Had I not gone through it, I’d never know the scope of it. It’s more common than you’d think — athletes due to injury, stroke in the elderly. My mission is gathering information and resources. Because I felt alone and uninformed when faced with life and death decisions for my son, I want to share what I learned so others can have more support and hope than I had.”
Fighting for His Life
Yvette recounts the ordeal with raw emotion, but also a matter-of-factness she’s earned after handling every detail of her son’s very existence for over 630 days with no respite. “He was almost dead. On the 10-point coma scale, he was at 3 and living on machines. Twice in the first 10 days they said I should gather the family for goodbyes. They informed me that I may have to make a decision to pull the plug.”
Despite overwhelming medical advice to the contrary, she wasn’t convinced Brendan was finished fighting. It took the insistence of her attorney brother-in-law to convince their neurosurgeon to perform a craniotomy. “They didn’t think it would matter, but removing his skull helped.” Brendan’s pressure went down, but still critical on day 10, Yvette was again counseled to arrange farewells. “Hundreds of people came. I don’t know how North Oaks put up with it, but I did know in my heart he was going to make it. I never doubted it. That is Brendan’s Miracle.”
The Catholic community gave substantial support with visits from clergy and organized prayer from area congregations. “We received an overwhelming outpouring,” recalls Yvette. “I couldn’t respond to all of them but wanted to keep that connection, so I started the Facebook page.”
After being in a coma for weeks, Brendan was admitted to Touro’s Neuro Rehabilitation Department. Although still in a semi-conscious state, unable to hold his head up and on a feeding tube, Brendan was now breathing on his own. True to Yvette’s belief, Brendan proved to be relentless. A hard-fought four months at Touro led to continued rehab at TASS, a small, Ponchatoula facility in a home-based setting. “He didn’t just get up and walk out of the hospital. It was slow, steady improvement over time. Brendan’s still in a wheelchair but making progress.”
It took Brendan four months and intensive therapy to speak his first whisper. It was over a year before his intense efforts resulted in some movement on his left side and the accomplishment of walking with a hemi walker. “His team loves him because he’s so self-motivated. Being the parent of a brain injury child, you mourn his death even though he’s alive because of all the things he’ll never do again. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, but I’m thankful for any progress that’s made.”
Gratitude and Prayer
Yvette reports that everyone affected by brain injury has personality changes and that her once easily angered son is now “cool as a cucumber” and easy going. “He’s grateful, thankful and blessed just to be alive. I don’t know if you believe in God, but Brendan and I will tell you. Brendan said God told him he wasn’t ready for him yet. Our slogan is “42 Strong,” referring to his football number. So he stops and prays at the 42nd minute of every hour no matter where he is or what he’s doing. And his prayers are more for others than himself.”
Although his speech is not fully restored, Brendan can communicate, even making a speech at a recent fundraiser. Messages of encouragement from friends and strangers, seeing his 42 Strong: Brendan’s Miracle magnets on cars and news coverage have made him feel like a celebrity. “His favorite was being honored at a Hannan High football game. I’m grateful for his attitude, because with all the progress, we still have devastating disappointments. We’re going on his sixth surgery – the third skull removal. Each time it doesn’t take, it’s a months-long setback. I ask him if he understands, and he smiles and sings the Humpty Dance song because he says he looks like Humpty Dumpty without his skull.”
Despite her own challenges, Yvette works to help others in her situation. “With no funding support and caring for her own injured son, Kim Hill became Executive Director of the Brain Injury Association of Louisiana, a resource for patients and caregivers. It’s a dark time going through it alone. It’s a fight to get costly surgeries approved and to not allow loved ones to be sent to a nursing home to exist or die. The organization asked me to be a mentor, and I’ll help any way I can. I’ve raised some funds, but they need so much more. We both just want to turn our tragedy into help for the next person.” To follow Brendan’s Miracle or to contact Yvette, visit facebook.com/Brendans-Miracle. For more information regarding brain injury, visit biala.org.