Success Story: Luke Hartrum
Making Great Strides Every Day
Luke Hartrum died three times before he was seven years old. Three times after that awful day in 2007 when Luke was hit by a car, he had to be resuscitated. His brain was so traumatized, they had to remove a portion of his skull to alleviate pressure from the swollen tissue. He was on a ventilator and tube-feed. He just lay there in a coma. Some doctors and family members thought Luke should be removed from life support. Wouldn’t it be the merciful thing to do for a child who probably would spend the rest of his life in a vegetative state?
“I told them that if God didn’t take him, I sure as heck wasn’t going to,” says his mother, Lori. “From the very beginning, I had nothing but faith. Luke overcame every barrier. He is totally in control. Luke has a purpose to bring people back to God.”
Today, Luke is achieving milestones never thought possible, and he’s doing it with help from therapists and caregivers at the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital Pediatric Unit  in Bethlehem.
“The staff here is amazing and Luke has flourished,” says Lori, a mother of five who lives in Albrightsville and spends weeknights sleeping in a special family room on the unit. “He has surpassed expectations.”
On a quiet Sunday afternoon in the pediatric unit, Lori watches Luke, now 9, play with his identical twin brother Logan. The two are like any close siblings, playing games on Luke’s handheld video Nintendo DS, tackling each other in a game of air hockey, teasing, bickering – all typical 9-year-old behavior.
Luke whizzes around in his motorized wheelchair chasing his brother. Speech therapists are slowly getting him to speak again. Physical and occupational therapists are helping him grow stronger and more independent. He is sitting up on his own, though he still requires some help, he can feed himself, and he uses a tiny stylus to press even tinier buttons on his iPOD Touch to activate a digital voice downloaded with phrases like, “I love my mama. She is the best mama ever.”
Luke’s face breaks out into a wide grin that stretches from ear-to-ear. Logan, who was with his brother the day of the accident, smiles too. He’s proud of his brother’s accomplishments. “I think it’s kind of amazing how he survived the accident,” Logan says. “A couple years ago, he was a little different. Now he’s more amazing. He’s happy.”
The two boys along with their brother Brandon, now 17, sister Mackenzie, now 12, and a friend of Brandon’s, were walking to a nearby park. Luke was crossing the street when he was struck by a car. His body flew 30 feet across the road where he fell face down, broken, crumpled and bloody.
Luke was rushed to a pediatric intensive care unit with a massive head injury. Both his legs were broken. He was on a ventilator to keep him breathing. Three times he had to be brought back to life. Doctors didn’t think Luke would make it through the night. But he did.
Gradually, Luke started to make small improvements. After eight weeks, he opened his eyes. Still, nothing registered. He was transferred to a children’s rehabilitation hospital in New Jersey where he stayed from July 2007 to December 2007. Still in what his mother describes as a persistent vegetative state, Luke had to be sent home to be cared for by Lori.
One day in March 2008, Lori saw signs that her little boy was inside there somewhere and wanted to come out. Slowly, he began emerging. He learned to say “mama” and “Amen.” On Easter Sunday, he attempted to eat a piece of brownie. Luke was readmitted to the children’s hospital in New Jersey. He began remembering things and learning. After three months he returned home.
Last fall, Lori saw an ad for Dr. Kimberly Kuchinski , a pediatric physiatrist, at Good Shepherd’s then newly-opened inpatient pediatric rehabilitation unit in Bethlehem. She was thrilled to learn about such a facility so close to her home and made an appointment to see Dr. Kuchinski.
“I felt strongly that in an environment with intensive daily therapies we could maximize his potential, by improving his strength and mobility, and communication skills,” Dr. Kuchinski says.
Dr. Kuchinski and other Good Shepherd staff waged a hard-fought battle with Luke’s insurance company, but finally, last December, he was admitted. “His speech has blossomed and he’s able to sit unsupported and put weight on his legs,” Dr. Kuchinsky says. “He works very hard and makes great strides every day.”
Adds Lori, “I just can’t say enough about this hospital. The changes in Luke in the past few months have been dramatic. People need to know that there’s a high-level pediatric inpatient rehabilitation unit right in our area.”
Luke is a strong-willed little boy who wants to do everything himself. “He’s determined. He just never gives up,” Lori says. “He taught me a lot. And I thought I was the one supposed to be teaching him. I just hope he can be an inspiration to other people to keep fighting and keep the faith.”
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* This article originally appeared in the May/June 2010 edition of Sweet Charity, Good Shepherd's official publication for donors. To read more from Sweet Charity, click here .