Charlie DeFraia was enjoying a summertime yoghurt on the front porch, sipping through a metal straw, when the four-year-old lost his balance and fell. It was an ordinary moment nearly cost him his life.
The straw pierced Charlie’s tongue and throat and punctured his carotid artery, leading his internist father to realise just how serious the injury might be. The carotid is one of four major arteries supplying blood and oxygen to the brain.
“I just saw blood on his face. I assumed he busted his nose or his lip, or bit his tongue,” the boy’s mother, Crystal DeFraia, told Today earlier this month. “I never could have imagined that it was as serious as it was.”
The straw remained in the drink and hadn’t broken the skin on her son’s throat, so initially it wasn’t as evident just how dire the situation was. The extreme amount of blood, though, was the terrifying giveaway, the outlet reported.
“It was evident that he was really losing a serious amount of blood, and he actually stopped breathing on me a couple times,” Dr. Charles DeFraia, 38, told Today. “I had to protect his airway, and that’s really all I could do at that point.”
An ambulance quickly arrived after the family called 911 and whisked Charlie to the hospital. Local police shut down roads along the way to facilitate a faster trip, Today reported.
“As a parent, you’re spiraling. You’re watching your son dying in front of your eyes,” Ms DeFraia told the outlet.
Trauma doctors were, initially, also flummoxed by the extent of the four-year-old’s injuries.
“As soon as they wheeled him in, there was just blood everywhere. I’ve been a surgeon for over 30 years, and it was a lot of blood,” said Dr. Richard Scriven, chief of pediatric trauma at Stony Brook Trauma Center, told Today. “He had really no measurable blood pressure. … He essentially had lost nearly all his blood.”
Doctors eventually asked the DeFraias if anything could have pierced Charlie’s throat – and they thought of the straw.
“I was like, now this unfortunately totally makes sense,” Dr Scriven told Today.
He and Dr David Chesler, Stony Brook’s director of pediatric neurosurgery, stopped the boy’s bleeding, and while the latter “wasn’t worried about him dying at that point,” he was concerned about “what kind of neurological insult he was going to suffer from this,” Dr Chesler told Today.
Charlie’s freak injury was so complex that the team had to call in another doctor, director of the Stony Brook Cerebrovascular Center Dr David Fiorella, the outlet reported. Going in through the right femoral artery in the boy’s thigh, Dr Fiorella threaded a catheter all the way to his neck and rebuilt a new artery using metal stents that essentially built “scaffolding” to ensure arterial flow, he told Today.
He then used a stent graft, “so what it did is recreated a brand new carotid artery inside Charlie’s old carotid artery,” Dr Fiorella said. “In doing that, it not only stopped the bleeding and sealed off the bleeding, but also restored normal blood flow to the right side of Charlie’s brain.”
After spending a week in a medically-induced coma, Charlie woke up with some mobility issues that began quickly improving; he was discharged on 7 July and scheduled to begin kindergarten last week.
“We’re so thankful,” his mother told Today, adding that the family’s cache of metal straws had “been in the garbage since the day after the accident.”
The Independent has contacted the Stony Brook Trauma Center and the DeFraias family for comment.