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Nathanial "Nate" Pannell
The name Nathanial means "Gift from God" and was chosen for our boy because the doctors told us he might have Down's Syndrome. When he was born apparently perfectly healthy, we were relieved. How were we to know that an undiagnosed AVM would take his life a mere 13 years later? Nate was an athlete, a scholar, and a friend to everyone He packed so much into his short life. He was the catcher for his baseball team, member of the Quiz Team, and took honors classes at school. Even in death, he continued to help others- his pericardium, heart valves, and corneas were donated. His brother Nick, dad John, and I miss him beyond measure and want everyone to know this amazing boy.
19 February 2007
I have put off writing this for nearly 6 months, since the day my 13 year old son Nate died due to bleeding from a midbrain, AVM.
Tuesday May 23, 2006 began as every other day. Nate myself, and my other son, Nick, got up and drove to school. Nate was quiet, but what 13, almost 14 year old isn't. I was upset because I had missed a phone call from my husband, an Army Reservist, who was heading into Iraq that very day. So, we drove in silence - something I regret to this day. When I dropped Nate off, I said "Have a good day!" His response: "I'll try." Those were the last words I ever heard my son say.
Around 10:20 a.m., I received a phone call from Nate's school: "Denise, get over here right now. We think Nate hit his head on his locker and he is non-responsive." As I made the 2 minute drive to his school (I teach in a school next to his), I told myself, "Don't panic- head injuries bleed a lot."
When I entered the room where he lay on the floor, I knew this was way worse than they told me. He was posturing and moaning. After a few minutes, he began to vomit. The paramedic took me aside and told me they were lifeflighting him from the school. I made arrangements to have my husband contacted via the Red Cross and I was driven to the hospital, which was an hour away in Toledo, Ohio. During the drive, my husband John called me to tell me he had made it into Iraq safely. I had to tell him that our son was not fairing so well.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was told he was bleeding into his brain. No one would tell me how bad it was, but I just knew. When my husband called once again, he asked me if they expected Nate to live. I said, I don't think so." He dropped the phone and ran. His comander had to get on the phone with me and then make arrangements through the doctor.
When I finally was taken to see Nate, he had the bolt in his head to drain the blood. He was in a coma and on a respirator. Two nurses stood guard at all times. I didn't want to know if he were brain dead until John could be with me, but one doctor did tell me that his brainwaves were not "flat as a pancake". I was surrounded by family and friends until John was able to fly back home two days later.
We were told that the prognosis was very bad. His AVM was midbrain and he had bled into his brainstem. We prayed and stayed by his side, not knowing what was to come. Another bolt was put in his head to help relieve the pressure. We learned he had had a heart attack on May 23 and he also had pneumonia. Somehow, through all of that, he began to take spontaneous breaths and was weaned from the vent. He opened one eye and began moving some. He was upgraded from "chronic vegetative" to "mildly aware". We did believe he understood us because when the doctor told him about his condition, he cried. We began to have some hope that he would live.
Over the next few months in the hospital, Nate had several surgeries - shunts, G-tube, shunt revisions - but they would not do the one surgery he really needed to remove the AVM because of its location. Nate also had physical therapy sessions although he was completely unable to move or speak. He was completely dependent on us, but we were so grateful that he was alive! The nurses (all of whom became friends and who are angels on Earth) confided that on that first night when Nate arrived, they were told to do whatever it took to keep him alive until his dad was able to get home from Iraq.
In July of 2006, we were finally able to take Nate home. There was nothing else the hospital could do at that point and they could only tell us that the future was uncertain. We took Nate home and began his home care. Fortunately, I was on summer break from school and John was on emergency leave, so we did all of his care with minimal help from an in home nursing staff.
On August 12, 2006, John and I went out for dinner and a movie- the first "date" we had had in months. Nate's nurse called us and told us that Nate was vomitting and to come home. We had him transported to our local hospital and were told he had a rebleed. We gathered family around and he was given last rites. We asked to have him transported back to Toledo to see if there was anything they could do. The doctor told us he was 99.9% brain dead. We made the agonizing decision to remove life support. His dad held his hand. His brother touched his foot, I laid in bed and held him. Nate fought for over an hour, but died on August 13, 2006 at 9:40 a.m., three weeks before his 14th birthday.
Besides occasional headaches, there were no warning signs that Nate had this time bomb in his head. He was 6' tall at age 13, very athletic, and extremely intelligent. We have been devastated by his death and struggle to understand why such a wonderful young man was taken from this Earth.
That is Nate's story - or at least the final chapter. He was an amazing boy whose life is not defined by how he died, but rather how he lived.
Discussion, comments, or questions: Denise Pannell
© Copyright 2006 Denise
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