In The News

Trey Smith: a focus on Brain Injury Awareness Month

Mar 20, 2018, 17:08 PM by Matt Eldridge

Surviving a car wreck that left him ‘brain-dead,’ a boy says thanks
We all assume medical care will be within reach when we have an emergency. One South Carolina boy, however, is so grateful that he visited those who saved his life.

First responders often see the terrible results of major automobile wrecks up close—the fatalities, the patients who are disabled or disfigured for life.

What happens less often is that a boy who was pronounced brain-dead makes an astonishing recovery—and then shows up at a flight base to thank the crew who got him to the hospital.

Atreyu “Trey” Smith, now 10, was sitting in the back seat of a car, heading home from a church summer camp in 2014, when another vehicle T-boned into his passenger door. He was severely injured and was thrown to the roadside; Air Methods crew members transported him via helicopter him to the Medical University of South Carolina.

“Trey died at the scene, but by the mercy of God, there was a CPR-certified woman pumping gas at a nearby gas station, and she breathed the life back into him,” his mother, Heidi Street, wrote in a GoFundMe page. 

At the hospital, with their son in a coma, his family was told there was little hope for recovery. “They were pretty honest with Trey’s family from the start that this is very serious,” said flight nurse Beth Dockery. “They told them that they didn’t know what will happen. He may not survive this. If he does, they don’t know if he’ll ever wake up.

Trey lay in a coma for weeks days, and when he awoke, he no longer could breathe for himself, swallow or eat, to say nothing of talking and walking. For the first three weeks of consciousness, his eyes were fixed to the right, Heidi said. A medical worker cured him of that by giving him a taste of a Dum-Dums Lollipop and then moving it to the left. His eyes tried to follow it. Eventually he could do that, and he has since remastered the life skills, has returned to school and can walk with the help of braces.

Trey eventually returned to school, but it was a goal of his to visit the first responders who had helped him, both at the Conway, South Carolina, Air Methods base and a Horry County Fire Rescue station. So it was with joy that the crew welcomed Trey to the fire station for a visit. “Seeing him walk and talk and doing so well, that was just great,” he said.

One of the first on the scene was James Cyganiewicz, lead fire investigator for Horry County. “To see him walking and talking,” he said, “it’s a night-and-day difference compared to what you were expecting to see.”

The rescue—especially given the boy’s remarkable recovery—indicates the importance of Air Methods in saving lives and getting rural Americans to major hospitals. Dockery explains: “For people in this community it’s really important to have us here. ... It covers everything from the beach to farmland, and that’s a lot of rural places. It can take more than 45 minutes without traffic to get from some places to a good trauma center.”

For Trey’s family, after witnessing life-saving treatment in action, they are thinking society doesn’t sufficiently value its emergency responders and others on the front lines.