Nick Francis

Nick Francis is nothing short of a miracle. In April, 2015 at the age of 16 he was hit by a car and sustained major brain trauma. He was taken to The Ottawa Hospital because paramedics thought he was an adult due to his muscular build. He was athletic, happy and healthy – but in an instant was plummeted into a dark and vegetative state. It was unclear if he would survive.

Nick has what is called diffuse axonal injury. In the impact his brain was shaken and damaged.  His prognosis was bleak – and on the eve of being transferred to a long-term care facility, his parents, Dave and Colette and sister Emma begged him for a sign, which came 23 hours later with a ‘thumbs up.’

More signs followed showing Nick was ‘in there.’

More signs followed showing Nick was ‘in there.’ Emma was reading to him one day, and she noticed his eyes moving over the words on the page with hers. But Nick still needed major surgery. Immediately after his injury, neurosurgeons at The Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus had to remove portions of Nick’s skull to allow his brain to swell. What was needed next was to have those skull pieces put back. Dr. Danny Peters, a craniofacial surgeon at CHEO and his team worked to rebuild his skull.

Nick came out of the surgery well – and determined to rebuild his body and his life. It takes gruelling effort just to get dressed to start the day.

“Thanks for the minimal help,” Nick jokes with his dad as he struggles with the neck of a t-shirt.   

“Minimal help – that’s the deal,” Dave says, smiling. “Eventually, there’ll be no help!”

Every day is a battle – as Nick slugs his way through hours of speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

“Our expectations for Nick were guarded,” says Dr. Anna McCormick, Medical Director of the Rehabilitation Patient Services Unit at CHEO.  “His injury was quite severe – but I’m happy to say he surprised us!”

“His injury was quite severe – but I’m happy to say he surprised us!”

Six months after the incident Nick was able to talk. His progress is shocking – and against all odds, he is back. “My dad and mom help me so much – and my sister supports me,” he says, grinning.

Emma sums up her brother’s influence: “He’s teaching me about strength and courage and he’s teaching me about the importance of family.”

Nick’s family is proud of his progress and fighter’s spirit. They have all been active and engaged in his care. That’s why this very private family opted to share their story to inspire others that may be facing similar challenges.

“If we can be that hope for someone else, that’s what we want to be,” Colette says.

“All of the people involved – the paramedics and the hospital – there’s no question they saved Nick’s life,” Dave says, his eyes filled with tears. “But I feel that CHEO saved his soul.  We have our son back!” Just over a year after the day that changed their lives forever, Nick’s family brought him home. Weeks later in front of the cameras at the CHEO Telethon, Nick walked – with the help of a cane – to the set to tell his story. He vows next year, he’ll return, able to run.    

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