Published on September 02, 2022

Forrest General Hospital Trauma Patient Slowly Putting Life Back Together

Minnie, Coco, Olivia, and Michael Shirley

HATTIESBURG, Miss. – (September 2, 2022) These days you’ll find Michael Shirley multitasking. For him, that means riding his zero-turn mower around his Jones County property as he listens to music on his headphones. For many, that might not seem like much at all. For Michael and his family, it’s huge.

On December 30, 2021, as he made his way to work in Taylorsville on an old county backroad, Michael’s Toyota Camry met with a tree. Michael and his wife, Minnie, had just celebrated her birthday and graduation, their anniversary, and Christmas just days prior. The new year was looking bright. Then, to an extent, the lights went out for Michael. The next thing he remembers, it was mid-March 2022, where, unbeknownst to him, he’d been a patient at Forrest General Hospital for more than two months. Minnie, who is planning to take her nurse practitioner boards before the end of the year, and other family members had been by his side.

Michael doesn’t remember getting in his car and heading to work that morning. He doesn’t remember the rain slick roads or the head-on crash with the tree. He doesn’t remember being stabilized and intubated in Laurel before being transported to Forrest General Hospital’s Level II Trauma Center.

On that December morning, Minnie remembers waking up from a sound sleep and seeing about 20 missed calls and texts on her phone. “Since none of them were from Michael, I automatically knew something had happened,” she said. “I knew it was pretty bad, since they just stabilized and intubated him in Laurel and transported him quickly to Forrest General.”

His injuries ranged from a lacerated liver and spleen to two collapsed lungs, a broken femur, multiple broken ribs, and a severe brain injury. Minnie knew her husband was in bad shape. But the entire Forrest General trauma team was waiting for Michael the minute they rolled him into the Emergency Department. “They sent me to the waiting room, and Dr. (Aimee) Sundeen, a trauma surgeon, came in and explained they had stabilized Michael, placed two chest tubes and were taking him to surgery to check for possible intestinal injuries,” said Minnie. “The head injury was my biggest concern; by itself that was severe.” Because of the head injury, there was also some temporary paralysis on his right side and he didn’t move for more than a week or two.

The Trauma team doctors steadily provided Minnie updates. “I wasn’t able to stay in the ICU, so every morning for two weeks I woke up depending on an update from one of the Trauma doctors,” Minnie said. “I got a call every morning about 7 a.m. and that’s what I looked forward to – a phone call or update. As a nurse, I was used to being on the other side, telling family members that everything was going to be O.K., so I never really realized how important these calls can be. You depend on (hospital) staff to take good care of your loved one. Being able to leave the hospital and know your loved one is in really good care, it helped a lot.”

The surgery to Michael’s left leg, an open fracture, was delayed. The hospital’s Orthopaedic Trauma surgeon, Jonathan Copp, MD, didn’t feel like Michael was stable enough, so they splinted the leg until Monday following the Thursday morning accident. Repairs to the leg required a rod and screws while the rest of his body needed time… and prayers.

Michael’s stay in the ICU was lengthy, but once he was taken off a ventilator, he was transferred to the neurosurgical floor where he spent two weeks until his transfer into rehab for another month of intense physical, occupational, and speech therapy.

During the early days of January, Shirley did not speak or follow commands. A week or so later he was eating well but speaking very little. The few words he could speak clearly didn’t come until the end of month when he also could understand some spoken commands.

“He doesn’t remember any of the pain, the ICU part, the acute care part, the rehab part,” said Minnie. “He literally healed without any remembrance. It was mid-March before he could remember things and not just live day-to-day. He could actually recall things that happened yesterday.”

“I don’t remember nothing about the wreck,” Michael said. “I asked her,” he said referring to Minnie. “She showed me pictures. ‘I rode in this car and wrecked it?’ I didn’t remember leaving that day.” Police reports say that once Michael’s car hit the tree head on, the car then spun around and hit the tree again on the driver’s side.

Dismissed from the hospital and back at home, the memory he’d lost became very apparent. Michael was comforted having Minnie by his side during his hospital days. But it wasn’t until he walked in the door of their house and saw the framed wedding photo on the wall that he understood why. “I looked at the picture and then I looked at her and said, ‘Wait a minute, you’re my wife?’ ‘We’re married?’ ‘I’ve got a daughter, too?’ I didn’t realize until I saw the picture,” he said. It was at that point he fell to his knees and cried.

Shirley still struggles for the right words to use when talking, but doesn’t get frustrated when they don’t roll off the tip of his tongue. He might say stroller rather than wheelchair, but he’s getting there. He has cognitive memory workbooks and work puzzles he and daughter, Olivia, a third grader, work on together at the dining room table. She also uses flashcards to help him with his memory. “They have a picture on them and a word,” she explained. It was Olivia, who had not seen her “Super Dad” in more than a month, who encouraged him. They piled up in bed together and watched cartoons, and she worked with him to gain the use of his hands. Olivia drew him pictures which hung on the wall. “I’d seen the pictures on the wall but was unsure where they had come from,” Michael said. He remembers asking who these people were and they would tell him family. “I forgot,” he said. “They didn’t look that way anymore. I’ve got a family like this I forgot about.”

Therapists even wheeled Michael outdoors so he could visit with Coco (as in Chanel, not hot chocolate), the family Goldendoodle, who is quite active and had also missed his person.

Since his accident, Shirley has had to learn how to do everything again. He has had to learn how to write again, feed himself, and other things that required both arms, and he is still building the strength back in his left leg. “He couldn’t hold his head up and brush his teeth at the same time when we got to Rehab,” Minnie remembers. “He couldn’t feed himself, his right hand was super weak, and the coordination was no longer there. He had to learn how to hold a fork and spoon.

“It’s still a weak hand,” Michael said. “My brain doesn’t remember using it, so trying to button my shirt takes a long time.”

Michael’s computer upstairs in the playroom hasn’t been turned on since the accident. He doesn’t remember his password, let alone how the computer functions.

But he’s determined, if nothing else. “And maybe too much,” according to Minnie. Michael also drives the tractor to bush hog the property, and Minnie recently found him up on a ladder trimming limbs.

He is still in rehab three times a week. Michael’s driving is limited to a store just up the road from their house. “His attention span… I’m still not comfortable letting him go far,” said Minnie. “He can’t do two things at one time, so getting distracted while driving could prove problemsome.”

And Olivia is slowly getting her Daddy back. “Every time I wake up I see him,” she said. “We hug in the morning, watch TV and work on puzzles, and he always tells me to make my bed.” Olivia recently heard him singing to himself while on the tractor.

Michael keeps busy. He’s getting better at the grass cutting, which he’s been doing since April, and provides a good source of hand/eye coordination. He is also back grilling and smoking meat. “I can cook chicken on the grill,” he said proudly. “I couldn’t even turn it over, but now I can.” Minnie said he couldn’t do any of that when he got home.

“Brain injury patients make progress gradually and the brain can recover for up to about two years following an accident,” Minnie said. “We’re six months in and are going to keep working. He’s super motivated and we’re trying to be really positive.”

But none of this would have been possible if Forrest General’s Trauma team hadn’t been there for him in the beginning. “The Trauma team took excellent care of him,” said Minnie. “I depended on them and they kept me updated. One night at 9 p.m. Minnie remembers the phone ringing. “It was a Forrest General number and I anxiously wondered what was going on,” she said. “I’d been going on the premise that ‘no news was good news’. It was Dr. Brent, Michael’s neurosurgeon. He had gotten out of clinic late, but was letting me know what the plan was for the next day. It was simply a courtesy call to keep me updated. But I needed those updates and lived for them. I had angels during those days, and I still have a lot of angels.”

“From the moment I walked in the door at Forrest General, they cared, were compassionate, and the updates I received put me at ease. I knew they were taking care of Michael and doing everything they could.”

About FGH Level II Trauma Center
Forrest General Hospital’s Level II Trauma Center provides an immediate, organized response by a highly specialized team, 24/7, 365 days a year. Our Trauma Center is always staffed by board-certified trauma surgeons waiting for a need to arise. The Trauma Center is also staffed by in-house Emergency Physicians, Anesthesiologists, and Critical Care Physicians who are available 24-hours a day. Forrest General Hospital's Trauma Center provides 24-hour coverage for Neurosurgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Vascular Surgery, Maxillofacial Surgery, Oral Surgery, Otolaryngology, Urology, and Interventional Radiology services. Our Level II Trauma Center receives over 2,000 trauma visits per year. We have developed an immediate, organized response to trauma patients in order to meet the needs at a moment’s notice.

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