Yvonne Glass has six kids, and she had never experienced a medical emergency with any of them. She works for the physician referral line of SSM Health Care and Cardinal Glennon on call nurse line, but had never been on the other end of the situation. Her children had never been hospitalized or even very sick. On September 18, 2008, that all changed.
Justin Glass, then 14 years old, called his mother at work in the middle of the day, screaming into the cell phone that his head was hurting. Justin doesn’t normally yell at all, so Yvonne knew the situation was serious. She called a friend who could get there faster than she could. When Lori got there, Justin was unconscious.
“I could hear her in the cell phone asking him if he knew she was,” Yvonne said.
Transfer to Cardinal Glennon
She took him to Christian Northeast where they ran a CT scan. The results showed bleeding in Justin’s brain, though the cause was still unknown at that point. Because the hospital is not equipped to handle pediatric neurosurgery, he was airlifted to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center.
The doctors at Cardinal Glennon explained to Justin’s parents that he had an Arteriovenus Malformation (AVM) – a tangled clump of blood vessels – sitting on top of his brain and extending down into it. At that moment, operation was considered a bigger risk than the mass itself, so Justin’s family could do nothing but wait.
Two days later, Yvonne noticed her son’s vitals suddenly spiking. His heart rate and blood pressure jumped as Justin started having a stroke. A team of doctors and nurses rushed in and started working on him right away. The AVM was pressing on his brainstem and would have to be partially removed. Neurosurgeon Benedicto Baronia, M.D., showed Yvonne the CT scan and explained that the clot could not be fully removed because it was connected to other blood vessels. He assured her that he had seen worse cases and was confident in the procedure necessary to help Justin.
The AVM was on the back left part of Justin’s brain. To reach it, the surgeons cut out a piece of his skull in a C-shape. His condition improved after some of the clotting had been removed, but they had not worked out a way to remove the rest of the AVM. Yvonne recalled telling Justin’s doctors, “You’ve all gotta sit down at the round table and figure this out.”
Turning to Faith
Treatment options were extremely limited. An attempt to surgically remove the cluster of blood vessels ran a 50/50 chance of sudden death. The surgeons decided instead to perform multiple embolizations (a minimally-invasive alternative to surgery) to reduce the blood flow to the AVM before taking it out surgically.
Justin had been sedated for two weeks between his stroke and the first embolization, and Yvonne started losing hope.
“I will treat Justin as if he were my son,” Dr. Baronia told Yvonne. “God has to direct us on this.”
It was at that point that Yvonne’s hope was fully restored. “I left it in the faith of God,” she said.
During Justin’s health care emergency, the members of the Glass family were pulled in many directions. Yvonne stayed at the hospital nightly, and depended on her older sons (ages 17 and 19) to take care of their two youngest siblings, who are only a few years old. Justin’s twelve-year-old brother, Keith, stayed near the hospital with his aunt. He walked to Cardinal Glennon every day to see his brother.
Justin’s seventeen-year-old brother Demitrius came after school on a daily basis to sit in the waiting room, but couldn’t bear to see Justin while he was sedated. Demitrius had seen a change in Justin when he was first transferred to Cardinal Glennon.
“He looked like he was dying – his complexion changed,” Yvonne explained. “That’s what scared Demitrius.”
After four embolizations, the AVM was ready to be operated on directly. Neurosurgeon Saleme Abdulrauf, M.D., began the procedure at 7:45 AM on October 20, 2008. After eleven hours of nervous anticipation, his family was given the word that the surgery was successful.
For the next six weeks, Justin stayed at Cardinal Glennon under close supervision, strengthening the right side of his body (which had been paralyzed from his stroke) and relearning to walk and talk. His doctors monitored Justin’s responsiveness to questions, and Yvonne explained that he has always had a very shy manner.
One day in Cardinal Glennon’s pediatric intensive care unit, a nurse saw Yvonne washing Justin’s feet, and came in with a bottle of red nail polish.
“I’m next,” she told him. “I’m gonna polish your toes!”
Justin told the nurse that she wasn’t going to touch him with the nail polish, and she commented to Yvonne that there was nothing wrong with him. Over time, Justin’s doctors began approaching him with small talk of his favorite football teams, and he began opening up to them.
“They were willing to adapt to different changes of his demeanor,” said Yvonne.
“The nurses spoiled him,” Yvonne continued. “They played games and watched movies with him.” Justin’s parents and siblings visited late on Fridays for “family night” to watch movies and be together, which made a big difference to them.
Answer to Prayer
On December 5, 2008, Justin Glass left Cardinal Glennon and went home.
“My prayer had been answered,” his mother said. “Cardinal Glennon’s mission statement says they reveal the healing presence of God, and that really showed when Justin was in the hospital. I wouldn’t take my kids anywhere else.”