Sudden brain injury takes family from routine to traumatic

Victoria Moon’s trip to the doctor’s office was supposed to be as routine as any. Have an annual check-up. Submit some blood. Return home to take care of her three children, 8 and younger.

To enable Moon to visit the doctor, her husband, Stephen, left the office and sat with the kids at lunch. She was expected home to begin Thanksgiving dinner preparations. He wasn’t expecting the call that came next.

“Mr. Moon, your wife fainted after giving blood,” a nurse informed him. “Do you know of any reason that she might have fainted?”

Stephen Moon couldn’t answer that. He said he would be right over. Before he could leave, the phone rang again. A doctor was on the line.

“It’s serious. Meet us at the hospital,” he said.

Stephen Moon raced to WellStar Kennestone Hospital not knowing what he would find. Being hopeful, he told everyone in his office that he’d be back in plenty of time for a big meeting at 3 p.m. that day. That was Nov. 22, and Stephen Moon still hasn’t made it back to work — and Victoria Moon hasn’t returned home.

Victoria Moon suffered a serious brain injury when she fainted, hit the doctor’s office floor and fractured her skull. Emergency room doctors gave her little chance of survival.

“I was told I could let her go or they could try brain surgery to relieve the swelling, but that she showed no characteristics of being alive,” Stephen Moon said.

Two days and two brain operations later, Victoria Moon was still alive, which was the only good news Stephen Moon could cling to.

With serious brain injuries, doctors rarely give an exacting prognosis. Victoria Moon faced months of speech, occupational and physical therapy. And while there were no guarantees that she would walk without assistance and talk without limitations, it was not uncommon for brain-injured patients to respond to therapy and improve dramatically during the first year after their injury.

A few days later, the comatose woman, 41, had some primal reflexes return, things like blinking and a gag reflex. A couple of weeks later, she was weaned off a ventilator and took breaths through a tracheotomy.

Yet 30 days following the first surgery, Kennestone doctors hadn’t seen reason to change their general prognosis.

“They didn’t feel she’d wake up,” he said. “And if she did, [she] would not be in a condition that anyone would be happy with.”

The diagnosis did more than cause family heartache. Stephen Moon’s insurance company considered the situation so bleak, it wouldn’t approve treatment at a brain rehabilitation center, such as Shepherd Center in Atlanta or Chicago Rehabilitation Institute, two of the top-rated centers in the country.

“We went through this insurance ordeal of them not paying because doctors said she was not curable,” Stephen Moon said. “So we decided to pay for it on our own.”

However, the Moons couldn’t pull that off alone. They wouldn’t have to. The Northeast Cobb County community supported them through donations culled from a series of fundraisers.

The Sprayberry Corners Chick-fil-A had two fundraisers in which thousands of dollars were given to the Moons. Another will be held Feb. 22 at a women’s self-defense class at the Brickyard in Marietta, spearheaded by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Cobb, of which Victoria Moon was an alumna.

“We all wanted to do something to help,” said Jennifer Farmer, who attended the Leadership Cobb class with Victoria Moon. “It’s a story that brings tears to your eyes, and everyone wanted to help however they could.”

The finances, of course, have been helpful, but Moon said he has put every relationship of his on hold for three months.

His colleagues at The Beck Group, an architectural firm in Atlanta, have supported and given him extended time off. His kids are doing the best they can, often under the care of two aunts.

“They seem to be doing all right,” Stephen Moon said. “Kids are resilient and they’ve got aunts who are alternating weeks of coming in town to stay with them. I thought it was important that they stay in their beds and routines as much as possible.”

Accompanied by her husband, Victoria Moon entered the Chicago Rehabilitation Institute and has steadily improved, so much that Stephen Moon’s insurance company saw enough progress and started paying its share of the bill.

“A week after we got her in at Chicago, she woke up and started whispering,” Stephen Moon said. “She went from not sitting, to where she can sit and hold her head straight. She now responds to commands and can understand what we say or write. She’s still pretty garbled when she writes or talks, but little by little, we’re seeing a lot of improvement. [The insurance company] pretty much had to change [its] stance when it became clear that she wasn’t going to die from this.”

In recent days, the Moons received more good news: Victoria Moon wasn’t coming home yet, but she was getting closer. She was flown to McCollum Airport and taken to Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, where her rehabilitation will continue. She will start out in an in-patient program and hope to enter a day program.

Getting her back to Atlanta, Stephen Moon said, is a huge relief for him and his family.

“It’s going to be good to be back home,” he said.