A pleasant Easter Sunday was winding down for the close-knit Leuer family of Indianapolis. Four-year-old Hudson Leuer was dancing to music with his little brother Brady, 3, and two cousins in their grandparents’ living room. Around 7 p.m., Hudson and Brady’s mom Alysha walked the block from her in-laws’ home to her own. With a third boy due in July, she needed a little extra time to prepare for baths and bedtime. Her husband, Justin, relaxed with family members on the front porch, planning to bring the blond-headed boys home a bit later.
Then a crashing noise from the living room startled everyone.
Justin ran in to find Hudson lying crushed and bleeding, pinned under a heavy wooden mantel amid the glass of a shattered mirror, both of which had fallen from above the fireplace. Justin pulled his son out into a hallway and began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while relatives hustled the other kids out of the room called 911.
Help arrived quickly in the form of Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Indianapolis Fire Department personnel, including float paramedic Robbie Williams, who was based at IFD Station #31 that day, and his partner, EMT Karen Stevens. Hudson opened his eyes once for Williams, but then was unresponsive. “This was a time-sensitive case, absolutely,” Williams says. “I could see deformities to his skull, and I had to think about intracranial pressure.”
Alysha, at home down the street, heard sirens and then chaos in the background of a phone call from her mother-in-law. She threw an oversized sweatshirt on over her pajamas and ran back to the terrible scene.
Once Hudson was stabilized for transport, his stricken parents suggested the local hospital most familiar to them. Given the severity of his injuries, Stevens recommended Riley Hospital—the site of Indiana’s only Level I Pediatric Trauma Center—where emergency medicine physician Heather Saavedra, M.D. took the lead on Hudson’s care.
Notification from first responders that a critically ill patient is on the way to the Emergency Department mobilized Riley’s trauma team. “We had maybe five to eight minutes’ advance notice,” Dr. Saavedra says. “The traumas are very regimented. Everybody has their role and is ready to do it.
“The most important thing in Hudson’s case was his airway,” she notes. “We knew that we would have to be intubating him—putting an airway in—as the first priority. Low oxygen (hypoxia) in his system could be really detrimental. [EMS personnel] did a beautiful job taking care of him; he never got hypoxic.”
Alysha believes that her big sweatshirt at first camouflaged her pregnancy, but then a nurse singled her out: “She said, ‘Mom, are you okay?’” Alysha recalls. “Then, ‘Calm down. If you go into labor, you won't be able to stay.’”
“They had a ton of people working on him, but they did an excellent job of letting us see him,” Justin says. “Once they recognized that it was skull fracture, they called neurology. We were very lucky that Dr. Smith was on call.”
Pediatric neurosurgeon Jodi Smith, M.D., fully explained Hudson’s injuries to his parents and then prepared to operate on him immediately. “Every second counts,” she says. Hudson’s star-shaped fracture caused three areas of his skull to push into his brain. “The faster you can get the pressure off the brain, the less secondary damage there will be,” Dr. Smith explains. “We had the pressure off in 45 to 60 minutes; reconstruction took longer.”
The neurosurgeon met again with the Leuers after about three hours in the operating room. “Dr. Smith was very truthful with us, and gave us her real opinion of what was going to happen,” Justin says.
“That was the first glimmer of what the recovery was going to be like,” Alysha adds. “While we were wondering whether he was going to remember his name or be able to start kindergarten, she said she thought he would make a full recovery.”
Following his surgery, Hudson spent two days in the intensive care unit. After being taken off a ventilator, Hudson spent two days on a recovery unit and five more in rehabilitation.
The Leuers took their son home on April 30. “In 10 days, we went from a life-threatening situation to his being home watching ‘Frozen’ on the couch with his brother and eating a popsicle,” Alysha marvels.
Hudson’s only limitations were to keep two feet on the ground for three months, so the diving board, trampoline and scooter that he loves became off-limits. When he returned to preschool and other kids asked what happened to his head, Hudson repeated what his parents had told him—that something hit him and made him go to sleep.
“It’s hard to comprehend how bad it was,” Justin says. “Ten days, that's just a blip. He was in surgery within hours, and we had one of the best neurosurgeons in the country on Easter Sunday night. Through those 10 days, it seemed as though something happened every day that was supposed to happen. And then he walked out of Riley with a smile on his face.”
The Leuers have been amazed and humbled by the support that poured in from their families, schools, church and community. They arranged special visits to thank their first responders in person, and exchanged hugs with paramedics Karen Stevens and Robbie Williams. Williams is pleased to see how well Hudson is doing: “I think it was a combination of a lot of quick decisions that went the right way for the little guy.”