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During last year’s holiday season, Grant Virgin was at his very lowest — recovering from multiple brain bleeds, several fractures and a torn aorta after being struck by a car in a hit-and-run collision in his hometown of Palm Desert.
Undergoing intensive orthopedic physical therapy treatment at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the 16 year old was, as many people who sustain brain injuries are, volatile — so much so that his family referred to him as “The Incredible Hulk” during his fits.
What a difference a year can make.
Last Friday, Virgin was smiling ear to ear, seeming almost shy as he handed out gifts from his family to patients in the hospital’s rehabilitation unit. Just a year ago, he’d occupied a room in the unit on the facility’s sixth floor.
“It’s something I feel really happy about,” Virgin said of doling out presents to patients such as Alyssa Paulino, a young girl suffering from acute myeloid leukemia.
With their gifts, the family also brought a message of hope, which pleased Leslie Paulino, Alyssa’s mother. Virgin was admitted to the Children’s Hospital with a “grim” diagnosis after the September 2012 incident.
“It really is nice to see families come out and do things like this,” Leslie Paulino said, mentioning her son, who died of acute myeloid leukemia in July. “It’s just really hard.”
The Virgin family can sympathize. Grant’s mother, New York Times bestselling nutrition author J.J. Virgin, said her family’s terrifying ordeal began with doctors telling the family to let the teenage boy die.
She said the collision occurred just a few streets from their house in Palm Desert. Grant was reportedly walking to a friend’s house when he was struck. According to media reports, witnesses saw a woman get out to check on her car and Grant, but she then drove away and has not been found since.
After receiving treatment from a local hospital, Grant was airlifted to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where he awoke from his coma. J.J. Virgin said there was nothing further the medical center could do, so the family arranged to have the boy transferred to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
When Grant was admitted, he could not walk, talk, tie his shoes or brush his teeth, she said. The teenager didn’t know his name, and he couldn’t remember anything for longer than a few minutes, his mother said.
“He could make eye contact,” J.J. Virgin said. “He could say, ‘Let’s go.’ That was about it.”
However, hospital staff members saw progression quickly, she said. Originally, doctors did not know how long Grant would stay at the hospital — possibly three to six months — but he was discharged in seven weeks.
“It was incredible,” J.J. Virgin said, adding that her son left the hospital with the ability to dress himself, speak in full sentences and walk.
Now, Grant has fully recovered physically, she said. J.J. Virgin said her son has recovered about 80 percent mentally, as he is still re-learning words and “connections.”
Grant’s father, John Virgin, said that he attributes his recovery to the fact that the family, like the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, never lost hope. He conveyed that message to families in the hospital’s rehabilitation unit last week.
“Regardless of what it sounds like, there’s hope. Regardless of what you’re told, no one knows but God,” John Virgin said. “Regardless of what any family has here, there is hope. Because nobody ever really knows.”
He said the staff at Children’s Hospital operate on a similar mindset.
“These people work day in and day out for one miracle. …We’re almost duty-bound to come back,” John Virgin added.
Child life specialist Cristie Suzukawa said the hospital always appreciates when families come back to visit with patients and staff.
“We really appreciate Grant’s family coming back and giving back to the kids here,” she said. “I know that they had a long road during therapy. You can see that Grant’s doing so much better now, and it just means so much to have people come back and give to the families here. [The Virgins] really understand what they’re going through, especially during the holidays. …The unit is relatively small so everybody here kind of feels like a community and a family.”
Suzukawa said it’s difficult for families to spend their holidays in a hospital, supporting their loved ones while they battle illnesses and injuries. Paulino and her husband, Steven Camacho, and their daughter, Alyssa, know that for a fact. But she said seeing Grant and hearing his story brightened her day.
“That is definitely the work of the Lord. That is a miracle,” she said, adding that his struggle reminded her of the troubles her family has faced. “It just brought me to tears, seeing him.”
J.J. Virgin said the family was happy to visit the hospital, especially since she credits Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for her son’s recovery.
“It’s something I plan to have as a tradition,” she said. “You know, last year when we were here, and I remember walking through these halls, and you see these little kids with their chemo cards and their shaved heads, and it’s all decorated for Christmas, and then outside you hear traffic, people swearing at each other, and they’re at the mall fighting over this sweater, and you say, ‘You know what, everybody just needs to come to a children’s hospital at Christmas and give back. They’ll just stop all this pettiness that doesn’t matter.’”Love and support goes full circle at CHLA
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