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Spine-Chilling Accident Leads to Miraculous Recovery for 6-Year-Old Trace

Faith, perseverance and pediatric neurosurgeon are the backbone of Trace Servin's incredible healing journey

On Sept. 14, 2022, every parent’s worst nightmare became Adam and Erin Servin’s reality.

Traveling abroad in Sweden for work, Erin and Adam received a call that their sons and Erin’s mother had been in a terrible car accident. Candy Duffy was on her way home from picking up Trace (6) and Silas (4) from school when their vehicle was T-boned by a garbage truck. The impact sent the vehicle 30 feet into the woods where it smashed into two trees.

Duffy suffered non-life-threatening injuries, while the boys were flown via LVHN–MedEvac to Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital in critical condition.

After falling to their knees from the news, Erin and Adam hopped on the next flight home.

The longest flight of the Servins’ lives

As the hours passed the extent of the boys’ injuries came to light. Thanks to family members who stepped in and advocated for the boys in their parents’ momentary absence along with Wi-Fi on the plane, Erin and Adam were able to be kept up to date in real time and communicate with the Children’s Hospital’s trauma team as more information was revealed.

Despite showing no signs of consciousness at the scene of the crash, scans thankfully revealed that Silas did not sustain any neurological damage. He would, however, require time in the Children’s Hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) to recover from fracturing his jaw, fracturing his pelvis in seven places, bruising his lungs, being severely concussed and the other injuries he sustained.

While Silas was expected to heal and make a full recovery, Trace was left fighting for his life.

"It was nothing short of a miracle that our sons were even alive,” says Erin.

The race to save Trace

Trace arrived at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital intubated, sedated and in critical condition. In addition to fracturing several bones and suffering internal organ damage, Trace sustained injuries that one typically wouldn’t survive.

“Due to the force of the crash, Trace fractured integral vertebrae in his neck and ruptured most of the ligaments connecting his skull to his spine,” says David Hong, MD, pediatric neurosurgeon, Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital. “Known as an atlanto-occipital dislocation (AOD), this highly unstable craniocervical injury left Trace in a compromised position where his neck was not stabilized to his spine. Historically, AOD is associated with significant neurological morbidity and is mostly a lethal injury.”

Emergency surgery

Trace required immediate spinal fusion surgery.

“In Trace’s case, spinal fusion surgery permanently fused Trace’s first and second vertebrae to his skull, allowing us to stabilize his neck,” Dr. Hong explains. “This surgery would protect his spinal cord from paralysis, but at the cost of some of the mobility and range of motion of his neck.”

“We were devastated by the news,” says Erin. “Trace is a very mentally and physically advanced kid for his age. Spinal fusion would only allow minor mobility of his neck and prohibit him from participating in contact sports, motocross riding, and doing all the things that made Trace, Trace.”

“Dr. Hong made us feel really secure in our decision to move forward with the surgery and we had confidence in him and his expertise,” Erin says.

A halo without the wings

Surgery was a team effort, requiring Dr. Hong, his physician assistant, his surgical team, an ENT specialist, an anesthesiologist and an ortho team all working on Trace concurrently. Outside of the operating room, there were thousands of people blanketing Trace in prayer as his story began to spread.

“Children like Trace are pretty amazing. Overall, the things that he went through – including the hospitalization, the injury and the recovery – he was able to go through that without breaking down and still maintain his spirit and appreciate the joy in his life.” - David Hong, MD

After hours of praying and waiting, Erin and Adam received the good news from Dr. Hong: The spinal fusion was a success and a halo device was installed to help stabilize his neck.

“I told Dr. Hong, ‘I don’t think you’re a hugger, but I have to hug you,’” says Erin.

Healing is a marathon, not a sprint

While surgery went well, Trace had a long road of recovery ahead of him.

Erin and Adam spent countless nights in the Children’s Hospital’s PICU. They sang worship songs, read to him, talked to him and did all they could to let Trace know they were there. Family, friends and the PICU care team swiftly followed the Servins' lead in making sure Trace knew he was not fighting this battle alone.

“God sent angels to our family in the form of PICU nurses,” Erin recalls. “The PICU nurses at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital are phenomenal people and treated Trace how they would treat their own kids. They talked to him the way we would have, and they were compassionate and very communicative with us.”

“Treating him with such respect like that was big to us. Trace was humanized.”

Trace continued to heal. Successful ventilator trials led to removal of the ventilator. Once he could breathe on his own and was awake, Trace began working through residual neurological deficits. He was tasked with relearning the “basics” all over again – how to talk, sit up, stand, walk, eat. However, from Dr. Hong to pediatric speech pathologist, Rebecca Letting, Trace had the Children’s Hospital’s team of dedicated and skilled medical professionals by his side through it all.

“We saw Trace gradually get his spark back little by little every day,” says Erin.

Trace’s journey from the hospital to home

After spending 16 days in the hospital, Trace was transferred to inpatient rehabilitation at Good Shepherd Pediatrics. There he continued building upon his progress, working toward gaining strength back, improving his motor skills, walking, talking and being able to consume real food and liquid on his own.

Thirty-seven days after the accident, Trace was discharged to home.

“Healing has been a journey and will be for years, but having someone like Dr. Hong – someone who is meticulous in surgery and his practices, but also is compassionate and has that next-level bedside manner – has truly made the difference.” - Erin Servin

Every obstacle Trace triumphed over was a monumental step in a propelling recovery.

“Here we are a month later, with this absolute warrior child beating every single odd, conquering every new fear and every new failure with such determination,” says Erin.

“Children like Trace are pretty amazing,” says Dr. Hong. “Overall, the things that he went through – including the hospitalization, the injury and the recovery – he was able to go through that without breaking down and still maintain his spirit and appreciate the joy in his life.”

“It’s just always incredible how much children can recover,” Dr. Hong continues. “I’ve seen so many children with devastating injuries. On the other hand, you see kids you don’t think will walk or talk again and they’re out there living normal lives. Equally tragic situations and equally amazing situations and Trace is one of the latter.”

“Dr. Hong saved my life,” says Trace.

Led by faith and perseverance, Trace continues his remarkable recovery

Trace is continuing to heal, defying odds and leaving follow-up physicians stunned as he overcomes obstacle after obstacle.

“We get him back a little bit more each week,” Erin says. “We can’t control his trajectory but we can certainly control ourselves and our attitudes toward his recovery. That Trace, our strong-willed, determined little boy, is a fighter.”

“Healing has been a journey and will be for years,” says Erin, “but having someone like Dr. Hong – someone who is meticulous in surgery and his practices, but also is compassionate and has that next-level bedside manner – has truly made the difference. Because of his love for Dr. Hong, Trace doesn’t see follow-ups as a burden. It’s exciting at this point.”

Trace didn’t just survive a life-threatening injury, he’s thrived from it. Now more emotionally mature and determined than ever, Trace has a simple explanation for his miraculous recovery.

“Because God’s not done with me yet,” says Trace.

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