Sunday, September 23, 2012

9-23-12 Be joyful in hope, patient in trouble and persistent in prayer.

This bible quote has been helpful to Austin’s family over the past few weeks when the road to recovery became a little bumpy.   

After his first meetings with his neurologist, everyone was feeling appropriately optimistic.  Austin would be able to have surgery soon, and after reviewing his CT scans and speaking with Austin,  the family was told that he was recovering at a good pace especially considering the extent of his injuries.  His father Gerhard says, “he stated that Austin’s capabilities and how he looked were comparable to what he would see in a patient about 3 months post-op.”

“Then, after about four and a half great weeks of almost daily progress came the rough spot we were warned of many times,” says Tina.      Austin had severe difficulty sleeping, unable to sleep more than an hour or two at a time, and going for many days with less than ten hours sleep total.  This means that his parents, who are caring for him 24/7 also were not sleeping. 
Hospital Hug - Photo by Allie Hilkemeyer

Austin had two visits to the emergency room in one weekend, the second via ambulance after experiencing his first seizure since his surgery on August 4th.  Austin returned home after extensive examination and testing – with some medication changes and the need for even more attention -- his equilibrium was skewed and he had lost a great deal of the cognitive progress he had made in the past 3 weeks.    But he was finally able to get the sleep he needed, and his surgeon determined him ready for the cranioplasty on September 20th

Austin’s neurosurgeon reported that the synthetic piece used to replace the piece of his skull, missing since the surgery following his accident, had a good fit, and that it “went very well technically.”   Everything went so well that the doctor has already released Austin from the hospital.  There still remains some loss of cognitive skills, but not to the point he was at directly following the seizure.  His motor skills are improving, his vision has enhanced again, especially in his right eye, and his balance is improving as well throughout the course of the day.  The swelling from the surgery is going down, and Austin will soon resume his outpatient therapies.

The cranioplasty is an important milestone of recovery on many levels:  physically, the brain becomes protected by the skull; and psychologically, patients often report feeling whole again.   Up until this point, the emphasis has been to love and care for Austin and help him prepare for this surgery.   Soon, the family will learn more about what lies ahead for Austin as he continues his intensive physical, occupational and speech therapies.

Just after surgery 9/20/12 - Photo by Tina Hilkemeyer

It is hoped that Austin will ramp up his recovery now that he has completed this phase, and that the journey will be smooth.  All of the prayers and well wishes, all of the love and financial support, have been very much a part of Austin’s road to recovery.   With so many people supporting him and his family, Austin will be able to continue his mantra of “Get work done – then have some fun,” with the hope, patience, and persistence needed to fully heal and joyfully celebrate his accomplishments. 

9-10-12 Austin at Home

Before the Cranioplasty Surgery
After just over a month in two hospitals – moving from ICU to inpatient rehabilitation, and from Flagstaff to Tucson – Austin was finally able to move home with his family into healing headquarters.  The road continues to be paved with love and care from friends, family, neighbors, and faraway supporters.

Being home has enabled three important progress points in Austin’s mind:
  •       Better potential sleep with a bed that is more suited to his 6’4” frame.
  •       He can now consume all his favorite foods, nearly 24/7, with copious amounts of milk.  
  •       The ability to watch the U of A, Broncos and other football games on TV comfortably at home, instead of on a computer in the hospital.

Days are full of therapy – now outpatient – requiring mom to drive all the way from Vail for multiple therapies a day.  Austin is diligent and dedicated to his speech, physical and occupational therapy.  “He has been in really good spirits and is working very hard during his therapy times,” says Tina (mom) who has had to remain off work in order to take care of Austin.  Austin’s three siblings help him with his “homework” and keep him properly entertained, including the occasional exasperating brethren antics that make him feel right at home, with his various maladies.

In Tucson, Austin has several new physicians, including a neurosurgeon who will soon restore his skull with a second surgery, called a cranioplasty.   This will allow him to move more freely without the need to constantly wear his helmet. 

Austin still does not recall anything from the night of August 3rd and the events of his hike on the North Kaibab trail. His last memory he tells us, is of it raining and hailing and turning around to come back towards the cabin.    He has no memory from August 3rd at 9pm until August 16th, and no recall of his stay in ICU.   However, Austin is keenly aware of all the attention he has received, a bit embarrassed by some of it, but nonetheless grateful to have so many people pulling for him during this challenging occurrence and the long process of recovery.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

8-28-12 Austin Continues to Improve

Austin is continuing to make progress that impresses both his family and the medical staff working with him. He has been working hard in speech therapy, occupational therapy and in physical therapy. As he told his therapy doctor the thing he hopes to get out of his time in therapy is "to be able to dunk!"
Austin was able to move from ICU, to a step-down care unit and then to a Medical Surgical unit while in Flagstaff. He was moved down to an inpatient rehab. therapy unit in Tucson on Friday August 24th. He has enjoyed being back in Tucson where he can visit with more friends and family.
Austin's surgery will now be with a Tucson neurosurgeon in 3 to 4 weeks.
Austin's family attended the talent show at Andrada and the Vail Titans carwash this past weekend. Austin, his friends and family are also enjoying wearing their new Bear Down Austin shirts as well.

Monday, August 20, 2012

8-19-12: Moving Forward - Austin Makes Great Progress in a Short Time

Austin's progress has been tremendous - he is out of ICU, in critical but improving condition.   He is engaging in conversation and smiling – with a generally positive attitude, even upon hearing about the Denver Bronco’s loss last night (“it’s just pre-season,” he explained.)

Austin - Grand Canyon 8-3-12
Austin makes strides daily in physical therapy at the Flagstaff Medical Center, with short assisted walks through the hallways. He wears a protective helmet for safety.  His strength is improving in his large motor skills.  His parents continue to stay close at his side, round the clock, to help him and encourage him.  His brother and sisters and other family members have visited him, and he has been excited to share time with them.  
The next step for Austin’s Road to Recovery is to replace the bone flap that was removed in his skull, with a synthetic material; a procedure called a cranioplasty.   This will potentially allow for expanded rehabilitation approaches and members of his care team – a process that will encourage his body’s healing of both physical and cognitive abilities.

The Hilkemeyer's are ever so grateful for the outpouring of support from extended family, friends, and friend of friends – as well as many people they have yet to meet.  They are so touched by the support from the Vail community and are looking forward to coming home as soon as possible.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

8-10-12: What Happened / Help for Family

On Friday August 3, 2012 , Austin Hilkemeyer, 19-year old University of Arizona, Environmental Science Major, was severely injured while enjoying one of his favorite hobbies in the Grand Canyon.   During an evening hike from Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the North Kaibab trail, a sudden thunderstorm struck.  As the storm picked up and it began to hail, he and his hiking partner turned back towards Phantom Ranch.   Less than half a mile from Phantom Ranch, Austin was struck by falling rocks from a cliff next to the trail, and was knocked unconscious.  His father’s cousin, James MacCurdy was with him and managed to get him back to Phantom Ranch.

North Kaibab the next morning
Austin received emergency treatment at the Phantom Ranch Canteen and Ranger Station, where Rangers, fellow park guests, and family members worked to save his life for the next nine hours until it was possible to evacuate him from the canyon, by air ambulance.  He remains in critical condition at Flagstaff Medical Center ICU, where doctors are cautiously optimistic about his recovery.   It is too early to know the extent of physical, cognitive and emotional impairments, or when he will be able to transfer to a Tucson facility, closer to his family home in Vail. 

Austin suffered a fractured skull, broken clavicle, vertebrae, and ribs, as well as a punctured lung which collapsed.  He underwent surgery on August 4th to remove rocks and debris from his brain, and a piece of his left skull, to allow his badly bruised brain space to swell, (left craniotomy with a hematoma evacuation).   He is being kept under sedation and more surgeries are expected.  When Austin’s doctors in Flagstaff believe he is able to be transported safely, the family hopes to bring him back to Tucson where he has 3 siblings, grandparents, and many other supporters.  


There are literally hundreds of people who are helping pave Austin’s Road to Recovery with love and support.

While Austin’s family does have medical insurance, not all expenses will be covered, and it’s possible due to the severity of his injuries that at some point, the insurance will be maxed out.    The family is incurring additional costs to stay with Austin during his hospitalization far from home.  We have no idea what additional expenses lie ahead for rehabilitation and therapy.

“We are being as optimistic as we can, and I believe that since Austin is young and strong he will prevail,” says mother Tina Hilkemeyer.    She also extended gratitude for the many “people who were there that night who helped save Austin’s life.  My faith in humanity and the goodwill of people has never been stronger then after that night.”

We are praying and believing that Austin will make a complete recovery but we all know that he, and his family, has a very long road ahead.  Friends have set up a fund to help the family with medical and other costs due to the accident.  

Donations of any amount can be made at any Wells Fargo branch (account for Austin Hilkemeyer) or via Paypal upper right on this page. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Help Austin

The family, friends and loved ones of Austin Hilkemeyer are uniting to raise money to help him recover from his traumatic brain injury.

Austin Hilkemeyer is a 19 year old University of Arizona student.  While on a family hiking trip to the Grand Canyon on Fri August 3rd he went on an evening hike under the nearly full moon.   A short time into the hike from Phantom Ranch on the North Kaibab trail, a sudden thunderstorm struck.  As the storm picked up and it began to hail, he and his hiking partner turned back towards Phantom Ranch.   Less than half a mile from Phantom Ranch, he was struck by falling rocks from a cliff next to the trail.  Austin fell and was knocked unconscious.  
Somehow, miraculously, his companion (cousin) managed to get him back to Phantom Ranch where fellow Phantom Ranch guests and Park Rangers worked to save his life throughout the night until he was evacuated out of the canyon at approximately 5:30 am via helicopter.   
Austin had surgery and is now receiving medical care for his traumatic brain injury, as well as other broken bones and issues.   This is the beginning of Austin’s Road to Recovery, one that we aim to pave with love and support for him and his family.   YOU are welcome to help!
His parents do have medical insurance but insurance only covers certain expenses and at some point the insurance will be maxed out.   (Medevac alone will be thousands of dollars, and Austin will be in ICU for an extended period.)  The family is incurring additional costs to stay with Austin during his hospitalization far from home.  We have no idea what additional expenses lie ahead for rehabilitation and therapy.
We are praying and believing that Austin will make a complete recovery but we all know that he, and his family, has a very long road ahead.  Donations of any amount would help this family during a very challenging journey, and keeping this amazing young man who has so much to live for in your prayers would be especially fantastic.