October 21, 2014

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Family gets to spend holidays together 2 months after life-threatening accident

The long, jagged scar that runs along the right side of Brandon Gates’ head is barely visible to those who don’t know it’s there.

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JASON MILLER / CHRONICLE
Anne Gates hugs her 15-year-old son Brandon in their Avon home.

But as his mother, Anne Gates, can tell you, the scar is a permanent reminder that miracles do happen.

This Christmas will not be about Nintendo Wiis or iPods at the Gates’ Hale Street home. Who needs fancy electronics when you are given the gift of life?

Last month, Brandon was as close to death as one could come after a freak ATV accident landed him at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. Within a few hours of his arrival, doctors were already preparing for the worst and were cross-matching his organs for donation.

Weeks ago when Anne was in the midst of the worst pain imaginable, she couldn’t even utter those words.

“It was like being hit by two trains at one time,” she said. “He’s very lucky to be alive.”

Some would say Anne and Brandon were due for a miracle. A hard-working businesswoman who spends 50 to 60 hours a week running her company, Barking Babysitter Pet Services, Anne said she is used to having little time for anything else. Brandon, 15, is her only child and together the two attack the world as a team. This has especially been true for the last six years. That’s when Brandon’s father, David Dietrich, died of cancer.

But on Nov. 1 Anne and Brandon collected on that miracle they didn’t know was coming.

Brandon was out riding ATVs with two friends. After a few hours of fun, the boys decided to head back to Brandon’s house to order pizza and watch movies. It was a typical day for the Avon High School freshman.

In less than a minute, typical turned tragic. More than a month after the mishap that nearly cost the teen his life, Brandon recalled the accident with clarity.

His friend asked him to hop on his ATV to see how it handled, he said. In a split-second decision, Brandon decided to do so without the protective helmet he had been wearing all day.

The ATV jarred to a start.

Suddenly, Brandon said it started going in reverse at about 25 miles per hour. As an experienced motocross racer, Brandon knew what was coming next but was powerless to stop it. The out-of-control ATV flipped, sending Brandon crashing head first into the concrete. The ATV landed on top of him. The impact knocked him unconscious.

Stopping midway in the retelling of the story, Anne is quick to point out that her son is not a careless rider. Since he was 5 years old, Brandon has been racing on the amateur motocross circuit. His room is full of medals, trophies and plaques. He was so familiar with riding and wearing a helmet that everything about the accident was out of character.

“It’s not like he was doing something that he was totally unfamiliar with. It was like a freak accident that happened in like a minute,” she said. “It almost didn’t make sense to me because I had just talked to him and he told me he was going to order a pizza. Then, 30 minutes later, the police were at my door telling me Brandon was in an accident. I wanted to go to where he was, but the police said to just get to the (EMH Avon Emergency Care Center) as fast as I could.”

So many thoughts raced through Anne’s mind as she made the short drive up Detroit Road. Did Brandon split open his knee like he had done before or did he smack his face this time like he had weeks earlier?

Anne soon found out the accident was much worse. There was nothing the local hospital could do for her son. He needed to get to MetroHealth’s trauma center as soon as possible and was taken by LifeFlight.

That’s where Anne received the gruesome news. Brandon had suffered three skull fractures and his brain was beginning to swell. He needed immediately surgery to relieve the pressure, but there was still no guarantee he would live.

During that time, Anne said, all she could do was pray. And, ask everyone she knew to pray for Brandon. He was all she had and she was not ready to give that up, she said.

Brandon, on the other hand, was in a coma, clinging precariously to life. He had survived the surgery, where the right side of his skull was removed, but was still listed in critical condition.

Everything after Nov. 1 became a numbers game: three skull fractures, one neurosurgery, and 11 days in a coma. It would be 14 days before doctors would tell Anne that her son was no longer in a life-threatening state.

But on day 37, long before doctors predicted, Brandon left MetroHealth with his mother thinking it was nothing short of a miracle, her miracle.

A Christmas miracle.

The scar is now mostly hidden beneath a growth of brown hair. It is the only sign to the world that Brandon once fought off against death and won. Beneath the scar, his brain still sits unprotected, waiting for the day next month when doctors will replace the removed piece of skull. Brandon must wear a protective helmet at all times until that happens. Even the slightest bump to his head could cause injury.

Brandon’s not back out on his ATV just yet.

But this Christmas he’s home, 35 pounds lighter and, aside from a little bit of memory loss, is happy and healthy.

“God gave my son back to me. That’s what I’m thankful for,” Anne said. “We had a lot of people praying for him and we are so grateful for that and all the support.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.