A Whiteland mother is trying to find the best care for her son months after a car accident changed their lives, and she’s starting to look outside of Indiana.
Michael Williams, a 16-year-old Whiteland Community High School student, was critically injured in a November car accident and is in a minimally conscious state, which means when he’s awake he doesn’t appear aware of what’s happening around him. He doesn’t speak, spends much of his time in a hospital bed at home and he eats and receives medication through a G-tube that goes directly into his stomach because he’s unable to eat or drink. During much of the week he has nurses caring for him for about 18 hours a day.
A brain scan recently showed that Williams is healing from the traumatic brain injury he suffered during the accident. The swelling in his brain is going down, but doctors say it could take two years before the swelling stops completely. Right now, it’s unclear how much more Williams’ brain will continue to heal, and whether he’ll ever regain his abilities to walk and talk, his mother Mandie Hendrickson said.
Williams undergoes physical and occupational therapy twice a week for a total of about an hour-and-a-half. His therapists stretch and work out different parts of his body and help him sit up for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
Hendrickson said he believes Williams needs more intensive therapy to have a chance at regaining his ability to move, walk, talk and eat on his own, but she hasn’t been able to find any rehabilitation centers in Indiana that can work with a patient who is largely unresponsive.
She’s now looking at out-of-state facilities in Michigan, Kentucky and other states with therapy programs that will accept Williams.
Initially Hendrickson didn’t want Williams away from home. Now she just wants him to be some place that will help him get well.
“There’s no map to what I should be doing, and when I should be doing it,” she said. “Very scary.”
Williams was a passenger in a car driven by two other Whiteland students on Nov. 5. The teens’ car, which police believe was speeding, struck a truck that was then pushed into two other vehicles, hit a sport utility vehicle and then ran off the side of the road. A small fire that started in the car after the crash was extinguished by other drivers who stopped to get the teens out.
The two students who were in the car with Williams suffered concussions and bruised and partially collapsed lungs after the accident, and they were discharged from the hospital within about a week.
Williams remained at the hospital until the end of January, was home for about a month and then had to be readmitted to have an infection treated, Hendrickson said.
Now, Hendrickson, who works full-time, is married and has two younger children and is trying to manage caring for Williams every day.
“I have good days and bad days,” she said. “I try to stay positive because I have two other kids.”
A nurse cares for Williams between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and another nurse cares for him between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays. That allows Hendrickson to keep working full time as the unit manager at a Franklin nursing home.
A full-time schedule during the day and caring for Williams and her two other children after work usually doesn’t give Hendrickson much time to dwell on the stress of the situation. Even if she feels overwhelmed she knows she can’t stay that way — she has three children who are depending on her.
“I just feel like I have to be composed. I don’t really have a choice not to (be),” she said. “I really think anyone can do it. If you’re put in that position, you really don’t have a choice.”
Hendrickson is just starting to sort through the medical bills for Williams’ treatments. Those costs already have passed $1 million, but Hendrickson doesn’t know yet how much of that her insurance will cover. Friends of the family also are hoping to have a benefit later this year to help the family afford more therapy equipment for Williams, Hendrickson said.
“It’s kind of overwhelming to think of it,” she said.
In the days and weeks after the accident, students and residents in Whiteland rallied around Williams, using the hash tag #FightBigMike on Twitter and Facebook to show their support. Businesses put up signs, and the high school hosted a vigil.
That outpouring of support has waned as time since the accident has passed, though Hendrickson is still thankful for the community’s support. She also still has friends from work who come by the house to help bathe Williams, or to bring dinner for her, her husband and their two youngest kids.
The Greene sisters, who were in the car with Williams in the accident, still visit Williams. Sometimes those visits are difficult for Hendrickson because they remind her that her son was hurt in an accident that could have been prevented. But she also doesn’t want to keep Williams away from people he’s close to.
“I know that Michael loved (the sister).
That was one of his best friends.” Hendrickson said.