A Major League Comeback
After surviving electric shock, boy gets back to baseball
By Annemarie Haydel
With temperatures projected to be in the low 90s on Oct. 4, 2014, it was an easy decision to celebrate Elijah Belden’s 10th birthday with a pool party at the family home in Temecula. Friends and Elijah’s
baseball team joined him on this special day, but in an instant, the upbeat celebration took a terrifying turn.
Just after having his picture taken, Elijah touched a metal support pole for the patio cover and immediately collapsed, unconscious. It was believed that the pole had become electrified by outdoor decorative lights. Slouched awkwardly against the structure, Elijah was in cardiac arrest.
Not realizing Elijah’s arms were locked around the pole, his mother, Aly, jumped to help him and got shocked too, although not seriously. Party guest Scott Baker, an off-duty Orange County deputy sheriff, stepped in and was shocked as well. He then pushed Elijah off the pole, and Elijah fell backwards, striking his head on the concrete. He had no pulse. Aly, who had recently completed CPR training, knew the most important thing to do was to get her son’s heart beating. She and Baker began to perform CPR until first responders arrived.
Now breathing but still unconscious, Elijah was transported to an area hospital where he was intubated and put on a ventilator. Although he regained his pulse and blood pressure, Elijah remained unresponsive. To prevent damage to his brain, the team cooled Elijah’s core temperature using therapeutic hypothermia. Often done in cardiac arrest cases, a cold saline solution is injected or ice packs are placed on the body to increase the chance of a full recovery. Elijah was airlifted to Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, where he was rushed to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) in critical condition.
A complex case
Right away, Bradley Peterson, M.D., senior consultant at the Ernest Hahn Critical Care Center and medical director of Children’s Hospital Emergency Transport team, realized he was dealing with a unique situation.
“Elijah had an unusual, complicated combination of injuries including cardiac arrest, brain injury due to electrocution, as well as a closed head injury suffered when he was knocked off the electrified pole,” he says. “While scans didn’t show any damage from the closed head injury or cardiac arrest, we closely monitored for evolving signs that the injury wasn’t healing.”
Elijah’s body temperature was again cooled, and he was placed in a medically induced coma to help control his intracranial pressure. Keeping a close watch on that and other measurements was essential to his brain’s recovery.
“We took an aggressive approach with multiple therapies implemented by a well-trained team, adjusting treatment as we progressed,” Dr. Peterson says. “Elijah’s blood pressure, blood oxygen levels and intracranial pressure were diligently scrutinized and controlled.”
The vigilance by the medical team helped the family to stay positive. “When we heard our son would be under 24/7 care, you don’t realize what that means until you watch it happen,” says Elijah’s father, Tony. “Looking back, the greatest thing was that the doctors always gave us small windows of hope. We clung to the positive, not the unknown.”
Tony added that the nursing team provided comfort and reassurance during the first days in the PICU. “We had the same morning and evening nurses, so we didn’t have to keep getting to know new people and repeat our story,” he says. “They got to know us. Elijah wasn’t just a patient. They wanted to know what kind of kid he was, and they helped us decorate his room with photos. Rady Children’s truly embraced us as a family.”
Defying the odds
Electric shock can cause serious physical problems, including severe burns, impaired brain function and heart damage, as well as mental challenges, such as depression, anxiety and personality changes. Amazingly, Elijah came out virtually unscathed.
After eight days in the medically induced coma, Elijah woke up and soon after, he was breathing on his own and slowly coming off his medications. He was released from the PICU and started inpatient rehabilitation, including physical and speech therapy. Dr. Andrew Skalsky, chief of the division of Rehabilitation Medicine at Rady Children’s and an assistant professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego, remembers Elijah’s initial assessment.
“When we first get involved with patient care, a lot of kids have depressed function – they’re still on sedatives from being in a coma,” he says. “It’s hard to anticipate what their actual function level will be. Elijah definitely did phenomenally well early on. Any cognitive deficits were resolved once sedation wore off.”
Dr. Skalsky discussed outpatient therapy with the family after Elijah was discharged from the hospital, but since he had done so well, the decision was made to wait until a follow-up appointment. “At discharge, he still had mild deficits, but given the fact that he was down for that amount of time – it’s remarkable,” Dr. Skalsky says. “His rate of recovery was amazingly quick.”
Stepping up to the plate
Elijah’s recovery was so quick that a mere three weeks after the accident, he was doing what he loves most: playing baseball.
Today, one year after the accident, the 11-year-old is excelling academically and shows no physical or mental side effects from the accident. After his Temecula Valley Little League team won the divisional spring championships this year, Elijah was drafted to the Temecula Valley All-Stars. Both teams were coached by Baker, the deputy sheriff who pushed Elijah off the electrified pole.
Realizing the importance of CPR in Elijah’s recovery, the Belden family and several of their
neighbors completed CPR training earlier this year. Future plans include a CPR training fundraiser to raise money for the installation of automated external defibrillators at local parks.
Tony also hopes to bring basic CPR training to the upper-grade classes at his son’s school. “We
want to use the positives of Elijah’s story, challenging others to be informed and to be trained
to take action when it’s needed,” he says.
Preventing electrical injuries at home
Electrical hazards are everywhere, but parents can help prevent injuries by making their
Mary Beth Moran, program manager for injury prevention at the Center for Healthier Communities at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, says parents should conduct a home safety review and follow these simple steps:
Use outlet covers
A study by the Electrical Safety Foundation found that at least seven children each day are treated in an emergency room for severe outlet-related injuries, including electrocution and burns. Install outlet covers to prevent babies and small children from sticking their fingers and other objects into outlets.
Organize extension and power cords
Use a cord organizer to keep extension and power cords neat and out of sight from babies and small children who may be tempted to chew on them. Electrical burns to the mouth account for half of the extension-cord-related injuries to young children, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Keep electrical appliances away from water
Don’t use or leave radios, hair dryers or any other electrical appliances near water.
Install ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI)
These devices will automatically shut off a power circuit when it detects an improperly fluctuating electric current. GFCIs are an easy, budget-friendly way to prevent electrical injuries and house fires.
For more safety tips and an informative “Home Safety Makeover in a Day” video, click here.
Originally published in The San Diego Union-Tribune, October 2015