Mighty Blog

Farm boy tough: Henrik overcomes severe brain injury with the help of our Level I trauma center and neurosurgery teams

May 9, 2023, was supposed to be a routine day for Emily and Derek Youngren and their two sons. That day, Emily dropped then-14-month-old Henrik off at daycare near their family farm in Waverly, Minnesota and went on with her day. A few hours later – she got a call.

“At first, my reaction wasn’t much,” recalled Emily about the moment she learned Henrik fell off a couch backwards and hit his head on a carpeted concrete floor. “But once I got to daycare and saw him, I realized it was very serious.”

Rather than take Henrik to a local hospital in rural Minnesota, an ambulance rushed the toddler directly to the Level I trauma center at Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis 40 miles away. The site is Minnesota’s only Level I pediatric trauma care center in a hospital dedicated solely to kids.

“Every minute is valuable with a brain injury,” explained Emily. “We are so thankful for the EMTs that made that important decision to go straight there and save every important minute.”

Level I pediatric trauma care

Immediately after arriving at Children’s Minnesota, the pediatric specialists assessed the extent of Henrik’s head injury.

“From the moment we walked through the doors, we were blessed with the most incredible staff,” said Emily. “The 20-plus medical staff in the trauma bay, social workers and the chaplain were all quick in their care for Henrik while also making sure we were aware of what was going on.”

Emily described the extent of her son’s injuries as one in a million. These unfortunate odds left Henrik with a skull fracture and a severe brain bleed. The blood surrounding the area around his brain caused dangerous swelling and pressure to build inside his skull.

Derek explained there was a chance his son could never walk, talk, see with both eyes or eat independently again, “I was heartbroken, thinking about everything that would have to change for our other son and Henrik.”

“We were told Henrik’s injuries were significant and he sustained significant brain damage,” recalled Emily while adding the family would have had to sell their home and find a new house that could accommodate Henrik’s potential special needs. “They told us they must tell us worst case scenario based on the scans and that they hoped he would surprise us all – almost every doctor we encountered told us, ‘The little ones always surprise us.’”

Diligent care

Within minutes of arriving to the emergency department at Children’s Minnesota, Dr. Kyle Halvorson, pediatric neurosurgeon and member of the Level I pediatric trauma care team at Children’s Minnesota, performed a craniectomy procedure. The neurosurgeon removed a portion of the right side of Henrik’s skull to relieve the mounting pressure and swelling on his brain. Dr. Halvorson also performed a procedure, called an external ventricular drainage, to help excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) drain. The specialist then placed a temporary device to monitor the pressure in Henrik’s skull.

Henrik spent 23 days recovering in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Children’s Minnesota.

“The PICU staff was diligent with Henrik’s care and so kind to us. For weeks they advocated for him, kept him comfortable and acted with such love while taking care of him,” described Emily.

Derek also praised his son’s care team, “the PICU team is some of the most genuine people there are. They took such good care of Henrik as well as us.”

Henrik also received care from the physical and occupational therapy teams (PT/OT) at Children’s Minnesota before his discharge. Rather than planning to sell their home, the family returned to their farm in Waverly.

Henrik during OT/PT

Henrik’s continued care journey

During Henrik’s care journey, he returned to Children’s Minnesota for several procedures. Dr. Halvorson placed a special tube, called a shunt, from his brain to the space inside his abdomen where the stomach, bowels and other internal organs sit. The successful procedure allows excess CSF to safely drain and be naturally absorbed by Henrik’s body.

In a separate surgery, Dr. Halvorson re-attached the piece of Henrik’s skull that was removed during his emergency operation in May. The bone was safely stored in a special medical freezer at Children’s Minnesota until it was time to re-attach it. However, Henrik’s body rejected the piece of skull and left him temporarily with a large area of his head unprotected under his skin.

The need for a custom skull plate

This called for The Kid Experts® from both the ear, nose and throat team (ENT) and neurosurgery program at Children’s Minnesota to design and place a custom plate to protect Henrik’s developing skull and brain. The protective plate is made from a plastic-like medical-grade material called polyether ether ketone, and it fits exactly over the open area of Henrik’s skull.

The Youngren family returned to their farm and anxiously waited for a call that the custom skull plate was ready. As a precaution, Henrik wore a special helmet until his procedure with the words “farm boy tough” stenciled across it. In October 2023, the wait was over – Dr. Halvorson successfully attached the plate to Henrik’s skull.

Farm boy tough

After spending months worrying, Emily and Derek now get to see for themselves the extent of Henrik’s recovery. Instead of hoping their son will walk again – they see him exploring the farm, playing with his big brother and learning to talk. Henrik will undergo routine follow-up care with the neurosurgery team at Children’s Minnesota to monitor his skull plate and brain development. Just like his initial injury, Henrik’s parents now call his recovery one in a million.

“His recovery so far has been miraculous,” Derek said.

Emily also reflected on her son’s care journey, “It sometimes doesn’t even feel real. We went from having a typical 14-month-old boy, to not knowing if he’d be able to walk, talk or eat independently. To him now defying the odds and being a typical rambunctious 20-month-old, I feel so grateful.”

Henrik’s family shares his story with WCCO-TV