After Accident, Webster Teen Overcomes Overwhelming Odds

His family will share its heartwarming story during Miracle Weekend

May 30, 2001

It was getting late and Richard Thygesen still hadn't driven his motorized dirt bike over the biggest jump at the Caledonia track where he and his friends were riding for the first time.

"I didn't try that jump the whole time," says Richard, a 17-year-old junior at Webster High School. "It was getting dark and I wanted to try it. It was now or never, so I did it. I remember taking the jump and thinking the outcome wasn't going to be good. Then it's all blank."

As part of its Miracle Weekend celebration May 31 to June 3, Children's Hospital at Strong is honoring five children - including Richard - as Miracle Kids. Each overcame significant health problems while being treated at Children's Hospital at Strong.

Richard's Story

Richard, who was wearing one of the safest helmets available, crashed his bike last June. He was rushed to the emergency department at Children's Hospital at Strong, where physicians determined he had life-threatening brain injuries.

"There were so many teams involved - neurosurgeons, cardiologists, surgeons and pediatric intensivists," says Richard's mother, Sally Peckham. "His heart stopped beating several times. He even had last rites."

Richard underwent multiple surgeries and doctors put him in a drug-induced coma to give his body a fighting chance to heal itself. He spent more than six weeks in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Children's Hospital at Strong. His brain was so badly injured that it was four weeks between the time he came out of the coma and the time he spoke his first words.

"Richard's initial head injuries were quite severe and his recovery from the brain trauma is phenomenal," says Dr. Frank Maffei, of Children's Hospital at Strong. "What makes his story even more amazing is he survived a rare heart complication that followed his severe head injury. He developed a life-threatening heart arrhythmia that required emergency treatment. On three occasions, he required cardiopulmonary resuscitation."

"I don't remember much of that and I don't know how to respond to it," Richard says. "I take what has happened and do my best to live with it. Every day gets better."

Although he walks with the aid of a cane and has lost the use of his left hand, Richard is making steady progress. He is back to his pre-accident weight of 140 pounds - he lost 70 pounds while he was hospitalized - and, with the help of a specially designed check-out aisle, he recently returned to work as a cashier at Wegmans Food Markets in Webster. Perhaps his most exciting achievement happened in April, when Richard passed a road test to regain his driver's test.

"The doctors told me that we'd be lucky if Richard was walking and talking again in a year," Peckham says. "This is a miracle. He really is a Miracle Kid."

Maffei agrees. "Our staff did an exceptional job in caring for Richard, as they do with all the children who are in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit," he explains "However, I would have to agree with his mother that his recovery was more answered prayers than high-tech medicine."

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