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HOUMA - Twelve-year-old Austin Irvine plays trumpet in the Montegut Middle School Band.  He likes to fish with his father, Frank, and play with his sister in their backyard in south Louisiana like any normal kid his age. 

But unlike any normal boy, he nearly died April 5, 2009, the Sunday before Easter, when he fell off the top of the camper of his father’s truck, striking his head on concrete. 

Austin was helping his father, who is a contractor, unload scaffolding from the camper top when Austin’s legs became entangled in falling scaffolding, yanking him off the camper top and crashing him into the concrete, head first.

The fall didn’t shed blood, Austin was lucid, and his pupils and eye movement seemed normal to Frank, who as a contractor had some knowledge of what to look for in on-the-job injuries, but EMTs who lived near the site of the accident recommended a CT scan, so Frank and Austin headed to Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center (LJCMC) in Houma, thirty minutes away.

Twenty minutes into the drive, Austin began slurring his speech and became drowsy.  When they arrived at the LJCMC Emergency Department, he vomited and could not walk on his own.

As soon as Frank Irvine told LJCMC ED staff that Austin had hit his head, they took a CT scan, which revealed severe brain injury, including skull fracture, swelling, abnormal coloration around impact zone, and the brain thrust toward midline, cramping it.

Dr. Michael Butler, the LJCMC ED physician on duty, immediately directed staff to prep Austin for transport to the Level 1 Trauma Center of the Interim LSU Public Hospital (ILPH) in New Orleans. He also coordinated ILPH trauma center staff, which would include a neurosurgeon, so that Austin could receive emergency neurosurgery as soon as he arrived at ILPH.

Time was never more of the essence, yet high winds prevented a helicopter transport of Austin, forcing an ambulance ride of at least an hour.

Within 20 minutes of Austin’s arrival at the trauma center, its staff successfully completed the neurosurgery, which included removing a palm-sized area of his skull.

Austin spent three days recovering in the ILPH ICU, then was transported to Children’s Hospital in New Orleans for three days of continued recovery and observation. 

He returned home shortly after Easter and was back in school April 22, 2009, completely recovered from his injury.

Frank Irvine praised the care Austin received at LJCMC.  “It was top notch,” he said.  “A ten out of ten.  You couldn’t get any better.  There was no holding back.  It’s like they had done it a thousand times before.” 

The quick diagnosis saved his son’s life, he said.  “The first thing they checked for was the most serious and time sensitive, and that’s what it was.”

The fully equipped ILPH Level 1 trauma center, its highly trained and immediately available staff, and Austin’s complete recovery speak for themselves. 

Yet Frank Irvine was reassured speaking to ILPH staff.  “All of the nurses there taking care of Austin told me they would take their children there,” to ILPH, if they were injured, he said.  “That says a lot.”

The value of the highly integrated, well coordinated LSU system of health care is self evident.  In less than two hours, beginning with Austin’s arrival at the LJCMC emergency department and diagnosis there and including an ambulance transport from Houma, Austin was in surgery in the trauma center.

In both medical centers, highly trained and experienced personnel in a number of key departments, including pharmacy, anesthesia, neurosurgery, radiology, and trauma, played critical roles in a timely fashion.

“Everybody did everything right,” Dr. Butler said.  “There were no wasted minutes.”

Austin Irvine
Austin Irvine

Austin Irvine
Austin Irvine recovers in the Interim LSU Public Hospital after receiving lifesaving