Texas boy visits hospital that saved him after near-fatal ATV crash

Blowing out candles and making a wish is the way Preston Simpson should have celebrated his second birthday. Instead, an ATV accident nearly robbed him of the life he’d only just begun.

Prayers replaced birthday wishes as Preston’s medical team spent days, weeks and months fighting to not only save this little boy but to restore his health.

Preston’s parents, Mercedes and Tyson Simpson, focused on the little things. While they’d recently celebrated several developmental milestones — first smile, first word, first steps — now they were doing it over again. All the while, they remained hopeful their son would come out of it like the rambunctious toddler they’d known before his near-fatal crash on Dec. 8, 2020.

“Preston couldn’t sit up, couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink. He couldn’t do anything. Actually, he couldn’t even breathe on his own at one time,” his mother explained. “So, Preston, from where he was to where he is now — he’s breathing, he’s eating, he’s drinking. He can walk and run and talk. And he goes to school and he’s just like any other kid now.“He got his life back.”

But getting there took what these Rockport parents agree was miraculous medical care and a big dose of hope.

A devastating day

While Dec. 8, 2020, started out like any other day, it would end very differently — with Preston being airlifted to the Emergency Department at Driscoll Children’s Hospital. There, the trauma team worked frantically to save Preston, who had experienced a life-threatening brain injury.

For his parents, the serious situation was masked by the fact their son looked relatively unscathed. He had a small scratch on his hand and his head.

“I was in denial, I guess, on how bad the situation really was. Anytime you call a helicopter, it’s obviously pretty bad,” said Tyson Simpson. “But I was having problems accepting that, so I wanted to get to the hospital as quick as possible and see what they were thinking.”

They discovered that his injuries were life-threatening as he drifted in and out of consciousness. He had suffered two bilateral skull fractures; his brain was swollen and bleeding.

“It was kind of just shocking, when we really knew the extent of the damage,” explained Mercedes Simpson.

She was with Preston when he climbed on the ATV after school that day, just as he had many times before. Mercedes was all set to ride behind him. But while she was adjusting his leg, Preston hit the gas, and she fell off the back of the four-wheeler.

Preston kept going until he crashed headfirst into a tree.

For many children, ATV accidents do not have happy endings. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that more than 3,000 children younger than 16 have been killed in ATV crashes and nearly a million more children have been seriously injured since the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission began tracking this data in 1982.

As doctors at Driscoll Children’s Hospital worked to save Preston, the seriousness of the situation settled in.“When we were in the emergency room and they’d said that they’d already done the first surgery, I think that’s when it really hit that this is not good,” Tyson Simpson said. “And when we first saw him, he’d already had a couple of drains that they had put in his skull to relieve some of the pressure because of his brain swelling. And it was devastating.”

Preston was paralyzed on the right side of his body and he couldn’t move his arm or leg. But a second surgery helped him regain some mobility. Still, he wasn’t sitting or holding up his head.

“He couldn’t walk or sit or do anything,” Mercedes said. “So, we completely started over. …I remember just being in therapy and making a big deal out of him holding his head up for three seconds. (That) was a major first step for us.”

And when Preston ate just five milliliters of applesauce, “that was like a big win.”

Where wishes come true

On the two-year anniversary of Preston’s accident, he and his family returned to Driscoll Children’s Hospital in a much different way. This time, it was to reunite with their hospital family.

“The little boy in the bed who couldn’t move” was now the little boy who was all smiles, talking, running, playing and laughing.

“The last few years have been a lot of work,” Mercedes explained. After rehab, Preston completed physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy two days a week for almost two years. These days, he only attends speech therapy. He’s also medication-free.

Wearing Team Preston shirts and matching bracelets, the family greeted the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) team and Rehabilitation Services therapists who helped Preston along the road to recovery.

Preston’s parents said they are so thankful to have had lifesaving care close to home. Serving all of South Texas, Driscoll treats over 175,000 pediatric patients each year with over 30 medical and surgical areas of specialty.Families whose children require expert medical care can be confident that their children receive it at Driscoll’s state-of-the-art facilities from the highly skilled staff there.

“We’re big fans of Driscoll. We love Driscoll. Not only did they save our son, but they gave us great care while we were there and met us on every level that we needed to be met at. They made us comfortable… they were very communicative,” Mercedes said. “We definitely think they are top notch, and we are so thankful to have them in our area.”

Julie Piña, chief nursing officer at Driscoll, said the care team loves to hear about successes — and build relationships with local families.

“What better relationship to have to continue after someone’s been discharged and they come back and say, ‘Look, look at me now!” Piña said. “It’s really important that we get to know our patients and our parents as unique individuals.”

In fact, Driscoll means so much to the Simpson family they’ve started an annual toy drive to give back to the hospital and its patients.

“Driscoll has been there from Day One and they’re still there trying to help us recover,” said Tyson, “and it means a lot.”

On Jan. 8, 2023, Preston’s birthday celebration looked a lot different. He turned 4 at home, ran around, tore open presents and smiled wide as his big, brown eyes met those of the loving family gathered around him.

On this birthday, he blew out his candles knowing that wishes do come true.

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