Pharmacy Perspectives - Graduation 2011 - 2

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Against the odds
Hard work, determination and sheer will bring student back from traumatic brain injury.
“Your son is in a coma and will likely remain in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.” These were the words that Jason Dollerschell’s parents heard in 1996 after an ATV accident left their 9-year-old with a severe brain injury. Airlifted from Sterling to the Children’s Hospital in Denver, the initial prognosis was grim. “His injury was so serious that we didn’t know if he would ever walk or talk again,” says Jason’s mother, Donna Veal. “One minute you have a typical 9-year-old, the next … an infant in a 9-year-old’s body.” Dennis Matthews, MD, professor and chair Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation with The Children’s Hospital and Jason’s doctor, says that the first few days after a traumatic brain injury are touch and go. “You never know how a child will recover from such an injury. It’s a wait and see scenario – especially at the beginning.” For 10 days, Jason was in a coma and unresponsive. A CT-scan showed bleeding in the brain stem (which powers movement and motor control) and the frontal lobes of the brain (which control higher level thinking and executive functioning). “Gradually he started to come out of it,” says Rick Dollerschell, Jason’s father. “But he was not the same. His head looked like a bowling ball on a limp noodle.” The once fun, boisterous, determined and driven child, was now unresponsive, exhausted and hollow. “It seemed hopeless,” says Rick. Jason had to relearn how to eat, walk, speak, write – even to tie his shoelaces. While in the hospital, he began intense speech, occupational and physical therapy. “The therapists kept working with him and day by day he’d get a little better. It was amazing to see. It was as if they were connecting one wire at a time.” For the family, the days were filled with despair and hope; for Jason – frustration. But glimmers of Jason’s old self would surface during the unlikeliest moments. His mother taught him to sign while in the hospital and his first words, albeit nonverbal, were “I love you” to his sister. One day, therapists dumped a box filled with toys, kitchen gadgets and items onto the floor. Without instruction, he immediately began to separate and group items according to category. The therapists were stunned. “He’s always been a bit obsessive compulsive. Instinctively he knew what to do,” says Donna Veal, Jason’s mother. When Jason left the hospital he was still feeble, fatigued and unfocused. “We brought home a total stranger,” says Donna. The best advice she received was from a nurse when they were exiting the hospital. She said, “You can feel sorry for him, do everything for him and turn him into a couch potato or you can make him do it himself. It’s harder, but it will pay off.” Donna chose the latter. Patience, faith and tough love were a constant part of their lives. “I remember yelling at my mom; telling her I hated her when she wouldn’t do something for me,” says Jason. “That was so hard. A part of me just wanted to hug him and do everything for him. But I knew if I wanted him to get better that he had to do things for himself,” says Donna. Jason’s road to recovery was long – years of therapy, tutors, setbacks and tough love. He worked extremely hard; developed his own shorthand in sixth grade, was a National Merit Scholar and graduated from high school early. With a goal (some at the time said unrealistic) of


UC Denver School of Pharmacy

Jason Dollerschell, left, on rotation today, and on the right with friends while recuperating from a traumatic brain injury he sustained as a child.


Pharmacy Perspectives - Graduation 2011

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Pharmacy Perspectives - Graduation 2011 - 2
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