Johnstown Independent

Ten-year-old aims to climb back from brain injury

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Every parent relishes milestones in a child's early life: the first steps, the first words and even the first tooth.

For Shaun Spence of Johnstown, those signs and signals were nothing short of miraculous for his 10-year-old son, Devon, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in October.

"He's had to learn how to walk, talk and do everything again," Spence said. "But Devon is a fighter. I've always felt since the accident that he will get back to the way he was. It is amazing to see what he has accomplished."

The crash that severely injured Devon occurred Oct. 7, 2013, when, investigators say, a vehicle went left of center on U.S. Route 62, near state Route 657. Spence's vehicle was struck head on and spun out of control.

Spence and his 7-year-old son, Mason, were transported to Columbus hospitals with injuries, but Devon fared the worst with a fractured skull and multiple lacerations. All four quadrants of his brain were damaged, doctors at Nationwide Children's Hospital told Spence.

"He was on life support for weeks, and even after that he wasn't showing any signs that he was going to get better," Spence said. "Doctors didn't know if he would walk, talk or show emotion again."

About eight weeks after the crash, Devon gave his family hope. He spoke his first words.

It was a moment among many that Spence has cherished on his son's long road to recovery.

Devon took his first steps in May. His left hand began to function again, too. He was able to brush his teeth and do simple math problems.

Most of all, he was laughing again.

"It's nothing short of a miracle what Devon has been able to accomplish," said Kathleen Baranet, Devon's physical therapist at Children's Dublin Close to Home Center. "It blows my mind every time I see him. He is a tough kid. He's very aware of his impairment, but he never gives up."

Devon continues to exceed the goals that are set for him. His coordination, strength and body awareness have enabled him to walk and jump and even climb a climbing net in therapy.

Still, other hurdles must be crossed, including eating solid foods and overcoming short-term memory loss.

"I really credit his dad," Baranet said. "I don't know that Devon would be where he is today without the level of dedication that man has given his son. He pushes him. His dad, not for a second, has ever given up. I have no doubt that has helped."

That motivation has prompted Devon to encourage other patients at Children's Hospital.

The injuries to his brain bring on bouts of severe vomiting, a condition known as cyclic vomiting syndrome, which requires hospitalization because of dehydration.

"Before the accident, his personality was very quiet; now he's outgoing," Spence said. "Even when he's sick at the hospital, he's always telling other patients to get better. That's just how positive he is."

Devon intends to attend the Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon & 1/2 Marathon in October. He is among the 24 "Patient Champions" selected by hospital staff members to represent 24 of the 26.2 miles on this year's course.

The Patient Champions will cheer on race participants at their mile.

"It's a great feeling to give back to the hospital," Spence said. "They've been great motivators, and they're like family now. It is amazing to see what they've helped Devon accomplish."

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