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The Catalyst

15 years later, patient returns to say thank you

Attitude of gratitude

By Ashley Barker
Public Relations

More than 15 years ago, a 17-year-old self-proclaimed “country boy” was rushed to MUSC from North Myrtle Beach with severe closed-head injuries, nine broken ribs and a broken pelvis.

Jason Harrison, then 17, reached out for his dad following a car accident in 1997.
Jason Harrison, then 17, reached out for his dad following a car accident in 1997.

Prior to the car accident, Jason Harrison was president of his junior class, a straight-A student and a member of his high school’s golf team. His father, Jim Harrison, remembers the afternoon of Sept. 24, 1997, the day that all changed, like it was yesterday.

“It was pouring down rain. As I drove to Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, I was saying that little prayer, ‘Let it be a bumped head, let it be a broken leg, let it be this or that,’” he said. “When I went by the car on the way to the hospital, my prayer changed to ‘Let me say goodbye.’ They had to cut him out of the car. It was that bad.”

When Jim arrived at the hospital, more than 50 of Jason’s classmates were already pacing the floors. Within minutes, Jim was told he needed to call his family in because his only son wasn’t going to make it through the night. Members of Jason’s family, who had to drive four and a half hours to make it to the hospital, didn’t know what to expect when they arrived.

“He was a mess. His head was as big as a basketball, and I’m not exaggerating,” Jim said.

After surviving three days, Jim decided his son’s best option was to be moved to MUSC. Again, he was told Jason wouldn’t even survive the ambulance ride. Jason’s heart stopped beating three times. But he made the trip.

Jason was in a coma for three months in the care of Karl Byrne, M.D., associate professor of surgery. Once he woke up, he survived a 106.5-degree temperature, three bouts of pneumonia and went through multiple surgeries to relieve muscle contractions, repair broken bones and to insert water-proof material between his vocal chords in hopes that he’d be able to speak again.

Jason Harrison, then 17, worked with a tutor to review a division problem during his daily lessons while hospitalized at MUSC.
Jason Harrison, then 17, worked with a tutor to review a division problem during his daily lessons while hospitalized at MUSC.

“There was no hope. Everything bad happened. We were told again he wouldn’t make it through the night when his temperature spiked,” Jim said. “We continued to pray and pray and pray and pray. I kept praying for a miracle, a Christmas miracle.” His family members rotated taking care of Jason, constantly staying by his side and refusing to give up on him.

Jim’s miracle came when Jason was moved to the Children’s Hospital after meeting Lyndon Key, M.D. Jason, who had been a juvenile diabetic since he was 9 years old, turned 18 in a coma on Nov. 18. Key, who was division director of pediatric endocrinology at the time, said Jason’s diabetes qualified him for care as a child.

Rehabilitation would be the next difficult hurdle for the family to cross. Initially, Jason was denied access to rehab because he couldn’t hold up two fingers. A chance meeting during a smoke break changed all of that.

“I went down to a smoking area MUSC used to have. I was crying and mad. This guy walked up to me,” Jim said. “His name was Rob Merenbloom, and he asked if I was OK. I shared with him what had just happened. He said, ‘Walk with me.’”

The next day, Jason was in rehab.

“The old saying is ‘It ain’t what you know; it’s who you know,’” Jim said.

Now 33, Jason Harrison returns to MUSC to tell his story of survival.
Now 33, Jason Harrison returns to MUSC to tell his story of survival.

It took a moment in the middle of a bridge at 2 a.m. for Jim to understand what he feels is the real reason his son is still alive. During an exceptionally difficult time in the hospital, Jim became outraged and blamed God for his son’s situation. While driving across the Cooper River Bridge, Jim said his outlook suddenly changed.

“God spoke to me on that bridge. He said, ‘Jimmy, the boy was mine before he was yours; ain’t nothing you can do about this.’” Jimmy pulled over, and his wife, Patricia, who was driving behind him, followed suit.

“I got down on my hands and knees in the median out there. I said, ‘Lord, I ain’t mad at you anymore. If you want him, he’s going to be better off with you than with me.’ I said, ‘You gave me your son, Jesus. I’ll give you my son, Jason.’ You want to talk about a burden lifted. Everything got good then.”

The following day, Jason’s life support was unplugged, and he began breathing on his own.

“God worked through this hospital, putting the doctors in the right place. MUSC is the greatest place to be,” Jim said. “I’ve said it to everyone I know. If you’re sick, go to your doctor. But if you’re really sick, go to MUSC.”

Jason was discharged from MUSC on May 14, 1998. Back at home, one Sunday morning around 5 o’clock, Jim remembers Jason ringing a bell that his family had placed by his bed.

“Jason wrote on a computer that was built especially for him, ‘Go buy me a walker.’ I said, ‘What do you want a walker for, you can’t walk?’ He said, ‘I can’t now, but I will walk in two weeks,’” Jim said. “Jason said, ‘Jesus sat on the foot of this bed and said I’d be walking, brushing my teeth and combing my hair in two weeks.’”

Jim Harrison, right, with his son, Jason, visited MUSC. Jim believes ‘God worked through this hospital, putting the right doctors in the right place.’
Jim Harrison, right, with his son, Jason, visited MUSC. Jim believes ‘God worked through this hospital, putting the right doctors in the right place.’

Fourteen days later, Jason picked his walker up and started down the hall. Jim said it took him 45 minutes to make it to the bathroom, where he combed his hair and brushed his teeth, before walking back to his bed.

That day is something that Jason can look back on with pride. He’s now living on his own just a mile away from his father in a two-bedroom brick home on the corner. He still has some speech difficulties, but keeps busy by working as a cashier at Goodwill and driving his own truck around town.

“Life is wonderful,” Jason said, as he sat in the Horseshoe near the Children’s Hospital in late May. He lives independently but calls his father every morning just to check in with him.

“You want the best for your children,” Jim said. “When they get up in the morning and they say, ‘Hey old man, I just wanted to call you and let you know that I love you,’ it doesn’t get any better than that. That’s what life is all about.”
Jason still golfs and is working on his game so that he can beat his father again, the way he could in high school.

“I’m trying to get it back. I struggle. My body just won’t let me do what I know how to do sometimes,” Jason said. Now he has new hobbies that his body can handle easily.

“I love to cook. I cook all the time. You name it, I cook it,” Jason said. He enjoys making chicken bog periodically, along with fried pork chops, rice and gravy. The now 33-year-old man, who wasn’t supposed to survive the night, is also known for whipping up a “killer mac and cheese.”

June 26, 2013
 
 
 

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