Identical brain injuries bond boys

May 5, 2009 6:00:39 PM PDT
Sharing may be one of the best ways to make a friend, but sharing a life threatening brain injury isn't what most people would probably have in mind. Still, it was a bonding experience for two young men in the East Bay, who were brought together by an amazing coincidence.

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If Jordan Van Groningen and Nick Thompson seem happy to share a basketball court, maybe it's because the last place they shared was an operating room. Earlier this year the boys were rushed to Children's Hospital in Oakland just minutes apart -- with nearly identical brain injuries.

"It felt like nails were nailed into me," said Jordan.

Fifteen-year-old Jordan had crashed his bike, while 10-year-old Nick slipped on a retaining wall.

"I ended up falling head first onto cement," said Nick.

Regardless, the results were so similar neurosurgeon Dr. Kurtis Auguste, M.D., says he nearly did a double take.

"As I was working up Nicholas preparing him for the operating room, about to wheel him into the operating room Jordan arrived. I took a look at his pictures and really it was almost mirror images," said Dr. Auguste.

He says both boys had life threatening epidural hematomas, bleeding between the right side of the skull and the brain.

"So with each beat of the heart, with each pulsation of the cardiac cycle, there's blood pulsating into this space, and slowly but surely, the pressure will increase. And we only have so much space, it can actually compress the brain," said Dr. Auguste.

Using the photos, Dr. August plotted and performed three straight hours of back to back surgery to relieve the pressure. Nick first, Jordan next, as the families learned they were facing the same ordeal.

"It was strangely reassuring. It felt like this is not a unique thing. This is something the hospital deals with," said Cris Orren, Nick's mom.

"It's not uncommon in a trauma hospital like this to have epidural hematoma come through, but once every two months or three months; rarely if ever on the same day. And I couldn't remember last time it happened one right after the other on the same night," Dr. Auguste.

The boys met briefly before the surgery, then again after. Clinical psychologist Pamela Orren, Ph.D., believes the relationship they struck up in the hospital may have helped ease their recovery.

"When you have two kids who join, it can help their coping tremendously," said Orren.

Although their recoveries are both on track, the boys still return to the hospital for regular post-op observation -- often scheduled together. And according to their doctor, both can go back to doing the things they love -- just a little more carefully.

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