Spruce Grove man shatters vegetative state diagnosis following crash

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WATCH ABOVE: Levi Blackburn wasn't supposed to make it out of the hospital because the brain damage he sustained during a horrific crash was too severe. Instead, the Alberta man fought. He continues to fight more than a year later. Sarah Ryan tells us about his remarkable recovery – Apr 6, 2022

Levi Blackburn was 18 in February 2021. He’d just graduated high school and was going on a ski trip to Banff with a friend when his life literally flipped upside down.

“They hit black ice and then when they hit the dry pavement, the vehicle lost control and rolled five times through the ditch,” explained Levi’s mother Crystal Blackburn.

“The full weight of the vehicle crunched on his head.”

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Levi was brutally injured and rushed to hospital by STARS air ambulance, but the prognosis was grim.

“The surgeons brought us all in to the family room and basically said it’s highly likely he’s going to pass away tonight,” Crystal explained as she started crying.

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“That’s just nothing a parent ever wants to hear. It was the worst moment of our lives.”

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Families and friends rallied around the Blackburns in the hospital parking lot, unable to go inside because of COVID protocols.

There they prayed, listened to positive music and hoped for a miracle.

Levi survived that night and the next one, and the next one. On day three, Crystal said the doctors changed Levi’s care protocols.

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“They’re like OK, instead of comfort care — because that’s what they were doing, just making him comfortable until he passed away — instead of that, they switched everything around and said, ‘We’re going to give him the best shot we can, because we don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but he’s showing us he wants to live.'”

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The outlook remained bleak. Doctors talked to the family about the quality of life Levi could expect.

“Because of the severity of his injuries, they said he was highly likely to be in a persistent vegetative state for the rest of his life,” Crystal said.

But Levi’s parents said they weren’t ready to give up: their son loved life.

Three months later, he was discharged from hospital. It was then, in a familiar environment, that Levi started making progress, little by little.

His family taught him to breathe again, a speech pathologist is helping him communicate and coaches at the ReYu Paralysis Recovery Centre are helping him regain motor functions.

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“He’s come a long way, to the point where he’s starting to move a lot more on his own, which is really exciting,” explained Brooklyn Jenzen, a neuro exercise specialist.

Read more: 13-year-old Edmonton boy killed while skiing at Lake Louise

Levi goes to ReYu twice a week and loves it. This week, he even rode an adaptive bicycle.

“It’s basically re-learning and re-teaching his muscles how to move, because unfortunately during his injury his muscles and brain got a little disconnected.”

Crystal said Levi would come more often, but the government isn’t covering his training costs and it’s a huge effort to get the now 19-year-old in and out of the family vehicle. It’s not wheelchair friendly. Crystal and Levi’s twin sister have to physically lift him in and out for every trip.

But every week they see progress. Levi is adamant he wants to walk again. Right now he’s walking with an aid, a far cry from being in a vegetative state.

“We’re so thankful that he’s here and that he gets this second chance at life, because that’s really what this is,” Crystal said.

A Go Fund Me was started for the Blackburns to help cover the costs of Levi’s care.


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