Pamela Okano still remembers how it felt to sit at her brother’s bedside in the hospital, not knowing if he’d survive. Day after day, she went over the few details she knew: a motorcycle crash on a country road. Bystanders at a nearby general store calling 911. The helicopter rushing her badly injured brother to the emergency room. As he lay in a coma, she wondered if she’d ever get a chance to ask him what had happened.
It was Labor Day weekend in 2007, and Michael was riding his motorcycle on the Olympic Peninsula near the small town of Brinnon when the driver of an oncoming car suddenly swerved left, cutting Michael off and throwing him and his motorcycle into a ditch. Then Airlift Northwest flew Michael to Harborview Medical Center.
At Harborview, doctors performed a craniotomy, removing part of Michael’s skull to relieve pressure on the brain. Still, he spent nearly two weeks in a coma, and MRIs showed bleeding in the brain. And while he came out of the coma and made progress during his three months at the hospital, he had lost the use of his right hand and the hearing in one ear; his speech was garbled, and his thinking was confused.
He wouldn’t be able to live on his own in this condition. But there was a chance that he could get better if his skull plate were replaced via a cranioplasty. “A small percentage of traumatic brain injury patients improve markedly after you put that part of the skull back on,” says Okano.
A few months later, he had the procedure. “It was like they had waved a magic wand over his head!” says Pamela. He regained the use of his right hand, and his speech improved. There was still hard work ahead with months of speech and occupational therapy, but things were looking up.
Today, Michael lives on his own on Bainbridge Island. He and Pamela enjoy visiting the Bloedel Reserve, and the family gets together for holidays and Mariners games. Michael doesn’t remember the day of the accident, and, much to his family’s relief, he decided that he would never ride a motorcycle again.
In appreciation of Harborview’s care for all patients, regardless of their ability to pay — and to help other patients like Michael — Pamela has become a donor to the Harborview Mission of Caring Fund and the Jessica Aldrete Trauma Research Fund.
“Your life can change in a second when you or a loved one are involved in an accident,” she says. “In the Seattle area, there’s no better place than Harborview for this kind of care.”