Miracle boy fights back from spinal cord injury

GRAND RAPIDS — Wanyae Givens’ chances of surviving the auto accident that nearly severed his spine at the base of his skull were extremely slim.

But less than two weeks after he nearly died, the 13-year-old Burton Middle School seventh-grader, although unable to speak, is the one assuring his mother and other family members he will be OK.

Injured in a car crash Feb. 10, he communicates by blinking his eyes — once for “no,” twice for “yes.”

Wanyae suffered what doctors call a “shear injury.”

The impact of the auto accident separated his skull from the top of his Cervical spine and stretched his spinal cord, nearly severing it at the base of his skull.

“These injuries are very serious in that the majority of patients don’t survive,” said Dr. James Stubbart, the orthopedic spinal surgeon who treated Wanyae at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “Very few of these patients make it to the hospital. It’s unquestionably a rarely survivable event in a child.”

In his eight years with Spectrum Health, he has seen only one other child survive such a severe spinal cord injury, Stubbart said. He credited the EMS crew with saving Wanyae’s life by immediately stabilizing his neck.

Doctors first realigned his skull and spine with traction. Stubbart then fused the skull to the upper cervical spine with metal rods, screws and bone transplanted from Wanyae’s hip. He also suffered a broken left femur and right wrist.

He was a passenger in a car driven by his brother, Cholonni Madison, who had just dropped off their mother at work. At 28th Street SE and Eastern Avenue, Madison lost control of the car on icy pavement, and it slid into the path of another car. A second passenger, Alan Martinez, 19, also was critically injured and remains hospitalized. His injuries were not disclosed.

The impact pinned Wanyae in the back seat, and rescuers had to extricate him with a hydraulic rescue tool. He was not breathing, his great-uncle, T.A. El Amin, said Thursday.

Three days later, Wanyae, who goes by the nickname Duke, had recovered some feeling in his arms and legs, but still is unable to move, El Amin said.

“He actually smiled yesterday,” his godmother and cousin, Tuere Sims, said Thursday, the day he turned 13. “We’re thanking God this is another birthday. So we’re celebrating his birthday today and life and miracles. Duke is duking it out. We’re calling him our miracle boy.”

His mother has not left his bedside since the accident, Sims said. His room is filled with balloons and cards from friends and well-wishers at his school and church, Revolution Christian Ministries, where Wanyae is an active member.

When his mother, Raketa Givens, asked her son if he was fighting to recover the use of his arms and legs, he blinked twice.

“Wanyae is setting the tone,” Sims said. “He’s letting us know, ‘Don’t worry.’ He’s at peace. He’s not talking, but he’s blinking away to let his mother know he’s OK. That’s Wanyae. He wants her to know he’s OK.”

Added El Amin: “He’s a special little guy with friends everywhere. He’s the type of guy, if he walked in, he’d make friends.”

His mother, just short of her one-year anniversary at work, does not have health insurance, Sims said. The family has set up a fund at all branches of the Lake Michigan Credit Union in Wanyae’s name to help pay his medical bills.

His family expects he eventually will be transferred to the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor to undergo therapy.

“We know this is going to be a long road,” Sims said, “but we’re in it for the long haul.”

Stubbart said his prognosis remains uncertain.

“Statistically, it’s not good that he’ll regain the use of his extremities, but it’s possible,” he said. “I always want to hope for the best. I’ve seen people with equally severe injuries recover.”

His family members expressed optimism Wanyae will recover.

“We think it’s going to be 100 percent,” El Amin said.

By Pat Shellenbarger
The Grand Rapids Press

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