Hello, my name is Michelle Sabbagh. My son Elliot Santos became a burn survivor at only 3 months old when his babysitter tragically burned his hand and arm to the 3rd degree, causing life long disfiguration and surgical intervention.
At three years old, Elliot was due for a pretty basic surgery to correct the skin between his pinky and ring finger. It was the early morning of March 22nd, 2019 that the staff in the OR would wheel my son back to the operating room, unknowingly being the last time I would see my spunky, daredevil of a child as a whole.
Within the beginning stage of surgery, a simple yet deadly error occurred between OR staff that left my son fighting for his life. A medication (epinephrine) was given to my son in such a large dose (2.5cc) after staff neglected to mix it with the appropriate formula; to assist in pain management of Elliot’s skin graft site. In an instant it sent Elliot into cardiac arrest. I was told later on by medical staff that my son had flatlined for up to 20 minutes before regaining a small pulse again. Due to the situation, he was quickly placed in PICU care to be monitored further under medical coma.
Brain scans would reveal that he had suffered mass watershed brain damage in many places of his brain, they also referred to it as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. It would be weeks of failed decannulation attempts, and non purposeful responses that would shift the conversation to tracheostomy and G tube placement, to give Elliot a bit more time to “wake up” so we could see how much he had lost from this devastating medical error.
He soon began to open his eyes with nothing more than blank stares. It wasn’t until Elliot’s father got the first REAL laughing response when he was making flatulent sounds a few weeks later. From then on it was a slow but pretty successful journey.
Elliot was accepted into the Phoenix Children’s Hospital in-patient rehab facility where he was able to remove his trach and follow much more commands. It’s where I got to watch him take his first real step (assisted that is) again, and where we lived with such hope for two months.
Once Elliot discharged and made it home, I got to witness what a real drive for life looked like. It was like taking all the small and undervalued parts of life and finding such reward and beauty in them. I can’t tell you that this journey was easy or that it’s close to over, but the strides Elliot has made in the past two years far exceed the expectations once set by a Neurologist and his nurses.
Elliot was wheelchair bound, could hardly keep himself up, required assistance in everything he once could do independently, but with his determination, hard work and consistency to succeed, he is now walking independently (we are still working on his gait/tone). He is attending preschool and is also meeting and exceeding the goals set for him there. He continues to learn and I as his mother continue to fight for the little boy I last kissed goodbye in a hospital waiting room.
If there was any quote that I feel represents our life after a brain injury it is this, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” – Japanese Proverb . I think we could all learn something from Elliot. I believe his story amplifies the comeback and the drive we all possess deep within ourselves. I hope those reading his story find the strength and appreciation to keep trekking forward in their own syncopated journeys.