“You’ve Got This!”
The Ronald McDonald House is renowned as a place where resilience is refueled, where everyone and everything is focused on bolstering hope, eliciting smiles and refreshing weary spirits. For the staffers at Ronald McDonald, resilience has many faces. This is the story of one of those, the remarkable Preston Miller.
Sunday, July 14, 2013 was a sunny day in our small town of Smithsburg, Maryland. Our family of four had gone separate ways that morning to attend to various commitments. At noon Preston had finished up a landscaping job. He and a friend were on their way to another landscaping job when Preston lost control of his car on a curvy mountain road. He was ejected out the driver’s side window.
A short time later, I received a call from the local hospital telling me that Preston was in critical condition from injuries sustained in a car accident.
Upon arriving at the hospital, I was directed to Preston’s bedside where my husband was holding Preston’s hand. The doctors shared our son’s diagnoses. Preston had sustained a severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) on the left side of his brain, causing a stroke & seizures. On the right, he had a subarachnoid hemorrhage. His brain and brain stem were swelling. His body was littered with glass. His left ear nearly completely ripped off. He had aspirated food into his lungs. He was on life support. He was airlifted to the Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. We were informed that while “all brain injuries are different,” Preston would likely not make it through the night. Our family was crushed. How could my strong muscular boy, that his teammates call “The Machine” be so broken that he couldn’t be fixed? I refused to believe it!
The first night was the longest night of our lives. We prayed for Preston to live moment by moment. And Preston did make it through that first night! The next several days were very difficult. Preston developed pneumonia and a DVT blood clot behind his left knee. Our family came up with an emergency plan to run our lives. Marlon needed to go back to work to keep our insurance. I needed to be beside Preston’s bedside. Our younger son, Paul needed support too.
Four days after Preston’s accident I arrived at the Ronald McDonald House. I didn’t know what to expect. I never really knew anything about the charity until this tragedy hit my family. When I walked through the doors I knew that this was an exceptional place. The energy was vibrant, yet soothing. I felt like I could be myself, even when I was a total wreck! For the first month I was only there to sleep and get a shower. While in Shock Trauma he was medically unstable, and in a coma for 30 days. He had a tracheostomy, a G/J tube, and several more surgeries. He couldn’t walk, talk or eat on his own. Once Preston was more stabilized he was moved to Kennedy-Krieger Institute for intensive rehabilitation. I felt comforted each night at RMH after a long day at the hospital with my son. It was nice to be cared for with a hot meal to eat, kind words from volunteers, small gifts for me to pass on to my son at the hospital. I felt reassured by other families that were going through similar situations or feelings. The authentic friendships forged at the Ronald McDonald House will never leave my thoughts or my heart.
As the months of hard work passed, Preston began to regain his physical strength, his ability to communicate and his beaming personality. He regained use of his right side. He learned how to walk, talk and eat again. His first spoken word after the accident was “Mom”! In late October 2013 he left Kennedy-Krieger as an inpatient for their outpatient program. For the next 60 days Preston would stay with me at the Ronald McDonald House so that he could participate in the next intensive phase of recovery.
Preston was nervous when he came to the house for the first time. But he was treated like a long lost friend by everyone—greeted with optimistic smiles, reaffirming hugs, genuine interest and instantly welcomed into this circle of love. The professional and friendly manner was not surprising to me, as I had grown to know that these people were always there when I needed them. As Preston’s mother, it was important to me that he felt comfortable in his surroundings.
Then again, I knew he would fit in with his toothy grin, big dimples and exuberant personality! The next phase of Preston’s physical, emotional and spiritual rehabilitation was crucial to recovery of his self-worth as a young man. Preston started his personal campaign, “You’ve Got This” to encourage other patients and their parents to have hope and faith, even when it is hard to! He encouraged others to have powerful and positive thoughts about their own situations! Much like the employees and volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House, Preston’s smile and encouraging words lightened the load of many folks there. His kindhearted hugs and kinship to the details of others’ plights solidified his giving nature and gave him a purpose to his personal tragedy.
Preston continued to thrive at the Ronald McDonald House. He even won a Torrey Smith “Dance Off”! Coming back to the House always made him feel relaxed after a long day of therapies. For Preston, the Ronald McDonald House made him feel comfortable with his “new” life. He even said, “It feels like home.” I agreed! As usual, Preston made many dear friends, of which he attributes to his greatest sense of treasure.
Preston returned home two days before Christmas 2013. It was the greatest gift our family was ever given! Preston graduated from high school in June 2014, proving “he’s got this”!
We certainly would not have been able to make it through Preston’s horrific car accident without the love and support of superb employees, volunteers and families at RMH that provided a “soft place to fall” and helped to save our lives, as a family.