December 14, 2020
Ryan was a senior at the International School of Indiana—and a Junior Olympic fencer with his eye on the nation’s top college fencing programs—when he had an accident that might have put an end to his fencing career, if not his life.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving break, Ryan was out with friends, blowing off a little mid-semester steam, when he fell out of the back hatch of a moving SUV and hit his head on the pavement. The blow split his skull in half.
He was rushed to Ascension St. Vincent hospital in Indianapolis. Ryan’s mom Kimberly, alerted by Ryan’s friends, was already waiting when the ambulance arrived. He was placed in the neurointensive care unit, his brain swelling profoundly from the trauma.
Goodman Campbell neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Kulwin performed a craniectomy to relieve the swelling. Ryan spent an initial 37 days in the neuro-ICU, Kimberly by his side during every single moment.
After being removed for a short time to a rehab hospital, Ryan returned to the neuro ICU after a second surgery, a cranioplasty, to restore the piece of his skull that had been removed.
“Within days of his cranioplasty, he started to turn the corner,” said Kimberly. “He started using his right hand and began speaking just a few days after that.”
Recovery was a long road, but as he has no memory of most of this time, Ryan feels somewhat insulated from the trauma. For Kimberly, it’s a different story.
“I remember everyone saying, over and over, ‘It’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint,’” Kimberly said. “I would tick down the days of the calendar and try to imagine what life would be like when this was over.
“In the beginning, we weren’t given any hope at all. Dr. Kulwin from Goodman Campbell, and his St. Vincent doctor, were the ones that really fought for him. I didn’t know if he’d wake up, if he’d talk, if he’d walk—let alone be back at college and fencing competitively again. In my mind, it’s a miracle.”
This year, Ryan is a sophomore at Purdue University and competes on the Purdue fencing team. He plans to pursue a degree in public health, inspired in part by his experiences with the doctors and nurses—and the Goodman Campbell surgeon—who helped him through his recovery.