Research funding needed NOW

 

Old and invisible wounds will be opened now as I retell the story of our son David who died six years ago of "complications following a near-drowning in an automobile accident"...complications now referred to as ARDS.

David was a gorgeous 16 year old whose very demeanor radiated life and boundless energy. He stood 5'10" and weighed 160 pounds. His hair was a wavy strawberry blond and his saucerlike blue eyes and puckish smile brought joy to all that knew him. He was an outgoing child and kind to all. He was treasured by his parents and sister...and he had reached a noticeable degree of teenage perfection on the day before his accident September 3, 1994.

At the end of the summer I had taken David and his sister Brooke to the Adirondacks to visit their grandmother. David's father was traveling in Europe. The children and I had had a wonderful week of summer together and David was making new friends in this summer community. We celebrated David's 16th birthday on August 21st with a group of these new friends and I was so pleased that this group would get together in the evening with another trustworthy young man driving...each with a 12:00 curfew.

Unbeknownst to me on Friday night this same group decided to leave the family compound and go to an off road location for a beer party. David's usual driver departed early to take another child from town home and David was offered a ride by a 19 year old girl who had just arrived that day. Allegedly all were drinking too many beers. The driver had three passengers in her new black jeep and sped down the dirt road too fast to notice the wooden bridge ahead. She misjudged the width of the bridge and crashed into the wooden railing of the bridge which pierced the radiator of the car as the car plummeted into the shallow riverbed below. The four were trapped inside the car at midnight with water coming inside the shattered glass in front of the car. Three of the passengers were able to scramble to safety through the front window; however, David was jammed upside down in the backseat with his seatbelt on. As he struggled to release himself, the water closed in on him and he drowned. Moments later, another friend heroically dove to bring David up and pulled David to the shore of the river. There a teenage girl practiced CPR on David while others dialed 911 on a cell phone. Within minutes an ambulance which happened to be in the area appeared and drove David to the hospital in Utica.

Meanwhile back at the house, I had awakened at midnight - the time of curfew - and wondered why our son had not checked in. I got up and found the house still and his bed empty. I then made phone calls to the parents of several of the teenagers and only the father of the designated driver answered - saying his son had returned ahead of schedule and offering assistance in looking for David. I then drove around looking for David for an hour and ended up at the camp belonging to the parents of the driver David had gone with. Ominously a police car had just pulled in ahead of me.

Inside this camp I learned that David and the driver of the car had been taken by ambulance to Utica hospital for "observation". And so I hurried home to inform my sleepy mother that I was going to the hospital and took my daughter with me - bringing dry clothes for David. Together at 2:00 AM I drove with my then 11 year old daughter at breakneck speed to Utica. We arrived to glum faces, and the doctor in charge of the emergency room took my daughter aside and informed us that David was in critical condition and would probably not survive the night. Prophetically this doctor also said that if David survived the night, he would probably not survive long-term as the fresh water had damaged his lungs and would cause a condition that would result in all his organs failing one by one. (ARDS was not mentioned.)

The miracle that night was that David survived and it was determined by the hospital that David should be transferred immediately to the closest available larger hospital which had life support systems. Therefore, an ambulance was dispatched to take David to Syracuse Hospital while Brooke and I followed by car. During the previous night I had awakened the business partner of David's Dad to contact him in Europe. After I arrived in Syracuse, David's Dad phoned and asked if I would "spell" him at the hospital while he finished his trip to Europe. Immediately the ICU nurse grabbed the phone from my hand and yelled at David's Dad to get the point across that David was in critical condition...and so David's Dad showed up a few days later.

For the first few days following David's accident it appeared that David was getting better. He was on a respirator and regained consciousness during which time he was able to communicate with me and the doctors by writing. David asked what had happened to the others, wanted to know where his watch and boots were, and let me know how angry he was at the driver. He was able to retell the events of the evening of the accident. He also wanted to know if he had had brain damage. The nurses attempted to wean David from the respirator but this was not possible. David became very panicked and agitated during the night and I was called from my nearby hotel room to calm him.

The day that David's father arrived at the hospital, David's condition proceeded to deteriorate and the doctors diagnosed David as having ARDS. But what was ARDS??? Only very thick medical journals written for doctors only offered up a clue.

By coincidence, I had phoned my good friend and mother of two of David's best friends to tell them about David's accident. I mentioned the ARDS diagnosis which she told her husband about. He went apoplectic as he was involved with investing in a company (Webb-Waring) which was doing ARDS research and he knew that the condition of ARDS was usually fatal... In no time, my friend's, husband was on the phone to Webb-Waring and to David's father...and the hospital became turned upside down by frantic calls to doctors around the country. At this time, a computer resource was not available.

Many treatments were tried at the hospital in Syracuse. Surfactant washes known to be successful on younger lungs were attempted. A high speed ventilator was brought in to help with oxygenation before it became known that low pressure ventilators are generally more effective. An experimental drug from Webb-Waring was added to David's drip...but all vital signs dropped and the drip was discontinued. Eventually David's lungs failed entirely and open heart surgery was performed to enable an ECMO machine to be installed. Meanwhile David was heavily sedated by morphine and regained little consciousness except to grasp my head once and clutch it to is chest as I was placing cool washcloths on his feverish brow. After 10 days all attempts to save David's life were proving futile, and so David's Dad arranged for air transport to Columbia Presbyterian on the prayer that perhaps a lung transplant could be performed.

After many heroic efforts on the part of the jet crew which transported David and the pulmonary specialist at Columbia Presbyterian who met David, David was placed in the ICU in New York City for 10 more days. During that time, David's condition was closely monitored and many blood transfusions were administered. His body puffed up with liquid, his toes became gangrenous, and blood started to ooze from all orifices. The surgeon removed David's spleen - possibly damaged by the seatbelt in the accident - and found he really could do no more to save David. Life support was removed after I believe every method known now to man was tried by leading doctors to save David's life. On September 28, 1994, David died peacefully in the company of both his parents who were saying prayers and pleading for his life.

David was a bright and caring young man. His ambition was to become a doctor (an orthopedic surgeon based at Vail Mountain to catch the broken bones) and I believe his life will not have been in vain if, in this lifetime, a cure of preventive measure can be discovered for ARDS. Research is needed NOW!

Written by David's Mother

October 17, 2000