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Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Here's something seen every night in millions of homes: Mom reading a bedtime story to her baby.

A mother reads to her daughter

But it's not your normal bedtime story. This one's a heartbreaker.

That's my daughter reading to her daughter (my granddaughter) Rosie in the hospital. In mid-September 2016, Rosie suffered devastating ischemic brain damage in a car accident. Traffic slowed on the highway. Our son-in-law, who was driving, was able to stop their car with plenty of space between their car and the one ahead of them. But the car behind theirs failed to see the brake lights and plowed into them at full speed — probably close to 70mph.

My wife and daughter sitting with Rosie in the pediatric intensive care unit, ten days after the accident. Yes, there's a human soul in that bed: Rosie's eyes and nose are just barely visible in the middle of the bed at the end of the ventilator tube.

Airbags and shoulder harnesses saved the lives of our son-in-law and our daughter. Our son-in-law suffered a serious concussion and couldn't work for two weeks but two months later he's doing pretty well. Rosie's car seat held her tight and no doubt that saved her life, too. But inside her skull, Rosie's eight-week old brain was thrown back, then slammed forward and probably bounced back once again, in what's known as a coup-contrecoup injury. Imagine what would happen if you put a goldfish and some water in a mayonnaise jar, then shook the hell out of it: you wouldn't have to damage the jar to kill the goldfish. It's possible other factors contributed to the severity of the injury; we still don't fully understand the mechanism of injury. But the bottom line is dire. Rosie was supposed to start daycare the week after the accident. Now, not only will she not be starting daycare, she's unlikely ever to start school.

Rosie with her parents in the staging area just before Rosie's second brain surgery in early November, which installed a shunt in her brain to drain fluid and reduce the damagingly high intracranial pressure. That Rosie appears to be looking at me in this photo is touching and makes the photo more compelling, but we don't actually know how well she can see.

There's a lot of pain in the world, so much that, to preserve our sanity, we must respond to most of it intellectually rather than emotionally. At first, it seemed to me that Rosie's injury must be practically unique; but, through Children's Hospital in Dallas and Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth, we have found neurologists and neurosurgeons who have seen a lot of patients with similar injuries. That's lucky for Rosie — it's good to have very experienced doctors. But it's sad to become aware how many other young patients have their lives altered by traumatic accidents. I try to pray for all of them. But because I love her, it's Rosie's case that breaks my heart.

After her second brain surgery in two days. The neurosurgeon explained that they know, from older patients who've had shunts installed, that the change in intracranial pressure can cause severe headaches. Painkillers helped, a little.

Please drive carefully, for your own sake, for the sake of your passengers, and for the sake of everybody else that you share the roads with. Just one or two seconds of inattention are enough to take a life or to harm a life in a way that can not be repaired.

Rosie smiling in my wife's arms, the day before the accident.


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