Student beats odds, recovers from brain bleeding

By Kim Walter

FRONT ROYAL — Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, started off as any other school day would have for 16-year-old Taylor Longmire. She woke up, went to Warren County High School and settled in to the Certified Nurse Aid class at Lynn Care Center.

However, by the end of the day, Taylor was heavily sedated from an emergency procedure that ended up saving her life.

Taylor, now 17, remembers developing an abnormally painful headache that morning. She tried to ignore it initially, but within a half hour the pain was so great that she couldn’t stand.

She became sweaty and vomited several times. Teachers and nurses checked her blood sugar, and asked if she might have the flu.

The Lynn Care Center is attached to Warren Memorial Hospital, but by the time the girl was taken to the emergency room, she was unresponsive.

Taylor’s father, James Longmire, remembers getting the call that “something was terribly wrong” with his daughter.

“Once they said she wasn’t breathing, wasn’t responding, I dropped what I was doing and took off for the hospital,” he said. “About 20 miles out they told me the helicopter was … was coming to take her to Charlottesville.”

Kari Longmire, Taylor’s mother, was hundreds of miles away in North Carolina dealing with the passing of her father. She, too, raced home upon realizing just how serious Taylor’s condition was becoming.

“We kept hearing that she might not make it,” she said. “And I just couldn’t understand why this was happening to my child, especially when I wasn’t there.”

When Dr. Kenneth Liu, neurosurgeon at University of Virginia Health System, met Taylor, he said his main focus was to simply keep her alive. After investigation, Liu diagnosed Taylor with an arterial vascular malformation — bleeding in the brain.

Even if surgery to remove the malformation was successful, Liu said he anticipated that Taylor would be partially paralyzed. The spot of the brain stem where it was located impacts coordination, hearing and sight, he said.

“I remember the elevator ride up with Taylor’s dad, trying to explain to him the reality of the situation without losing hope,” he said. “But honestly, AVMs like the one Taylor had can be catastrophic. I wasn’t sure how it was all going to play out.”

After several hours of waiting, hoping and praying, Taylor’s family and other supporters learned that the malformation was removed. However, the journey beyond that still looked bleak.

“We were heartbroken. You think of this healthy, happy person with a bright future … “ her father said, pausing to collect himself. “And suddenly you find out she could be a vegetable, unable to enjoy life.”

When two of Taylor’s travel softball coaches, also longtime family friends, visited her the day after her surgery, the girl surprised everyone. Taylor was unable to speak, but responded by moving her toes, feet and then legs.

“That was amazing,” her father said. “At that moment, we said, ‘We’re OK, we’re not paralyzed, but we’ve got a road ahead.'”

Liu said that someone like Taylor could expect to stay in the hospital for at least six weeks, and then begin therapy to regain strength and coordination necessary to do everyday things.

Once again, Taylor shocked friends, family and hospital staff. Just eight days after the procedure, she was, with a little help and a cane, walking down the hall.

After two weeks in Charlottesville, Taylor was transferred to Winchester Rehabilitation Center. She spent 10 days there before being allowed to go home to continue therapy on an outpatient basis.

By the end of December, Taylor, who has been playing softball since she was 9 years old, was working to get back in the game. She said she focused on the coordination that would allow her to swing a bat, and hit, throw and catch a ball.

At the Warren Memorial Hospital Outpatient Center, Taylor worked with physical, occupational and speech therapists several times a week. The staff was inspired by how determined Taylor was to get back to her former self.

“Taylor is a fighter,” said Mike Mitchell, her personal trainer. “We had to make her go a little slower than she wanted, just to make sure we covered our bases, but this girl isn’t about to let anyone tell her she can’t do something.”

Contrary to what doctors had predicted, Taylor was able to keep up with classes via home schooling by January. She’s now running, jumping and moving with hardly any sign of what she’s been through. She even managed to briefly participate in a couple games with her varsity softball team toward the end of the season.

Now in her senior year, Taylor is back in school full time and training to get back on the field with her team in the spring. She said she hopes to become a physical therapist after graduation. Going back to high school was a bit tough, though, as friends and peers acted awkwardly around her.

“Some kids would talk so slow, like I couldn’t understand them or something,” she said. “But I’m all here. I’m moving forward.”

Taylor’s father said one thing he noticed after his daughter’s experience was an increased level of maturity and self-confidence. Her mother said the girl makes her proud each and every day with the way she works and perseveres.

Liu, also an assistant professor of neurological surgery and radiology, said he’s told Taylor’s story to many students and colleagues since the outcome was so exceptional. He was pleased to report that Taylor is completely cured, but insisted that there were many moving pieces that allowed her such success.

“That day, people did their jobs efficiently and with care. If I had seen Taylor a couple hours later, I think this story would’ve ended much differently,” he said. “This is a stand-out patient and story to me. It really is a miracle.”

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com