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One year after skydiving crash, Woodbridge family celebrates

Courtesy Photos/Glover family - The Glover family smiles for a photo. They sometimes call the kids the “A-Team” because all seven have A-names.
It was April 6, 2013 -- just about a year ago -- when Austin Glover’s life changed radically.

Then 19 years old, the Outback server and student set out on his 76th skydiving jump. After jumping from 13,000 feet, his equipment rigging malfunctioned, sending him into a hard right spin.

Austin fought to correct the problem, but by the time he deployed his backup chute, he was too low for the device to deploy fully.

He crashed to the ground, fracturing his pelvis, puncturing a lung, and sustaining a severe traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

A graduate of Hylton High School, Austin attended Blue Ridge Community college in Harrisonburg, and planned to transfer to VMI. He intended to be a Marine officer. He worked at the Outback and budgeted his tip money so that he could pay for skydiving.

The injury
Austin fell in rural Orange County. While he waited for an ambulance, his skydive companions on the ground, former military personnel with medical training, provided the best care possible.

Austin was then airlifted to the University of Virginia hospital.

The next few days at the UVA intensive care unit were some of the most challenging the Glover family would ever know.

Austin had a brain bleed, a condition that places pressure on the nearby brain tissue, cutting off circulation and killing brain cells. Normally, doctors would have operated immediately, but Austin had injured a part of the brain where surgery is impossible.

A few days later, the medical team told his parents, Bob and Frances Glover, that Austin would never wake from his coma.

He was not expected to walk or talk ever again.

The science indicated that Austin would stay in a vegetative state for the rest of his life with only a two per cent chance of recovery.

In the emotional hours that followed, the Bob and Frances decided to take their son off of life support.

They wanted to spare him from an existence in limbo.

The next step was to break the news to the elder of their six other children.

“The older children violently disagreed,” Bob said.

“That was the beauty of his siblings,” Frances said.

The emotions and love Austin’s brothers and sisters felt for him overrode all the science and the logic the doctors placed before them.

Recovery
In the days after the fall, Glovers sought second opinions.

Bob is a retired Marine, so the family had access to doctors at Walter Reed hospital.

According to Defense.gov, Walter Reed has one of the best TBI centers in the country, due to the experience doctors have accrued treating service members injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Glovers arranged a transfer to Walter Reed.

Austin remained in a coma for 70 days.

The Glovers explained that being in a coma is not like it is on TV: victims do not experience an instantaneous “Sleeping Beauty” awakening.

“It’s like being on heavy drugs,” Bob said. “You’re there, but not really there.”

In late May, Austin moved to the Kessler Institute in New Jersey, which is an inpatient rehabilitation center.

While there, Austin went through intensive physical, occupational and speech therapy.

Although he has had great success and unexpected victories, he also had some serious setbacks: he spiked a high fever and suffered an embolism, a condition in which an object, like a blood clot, blocks blood flow to an area.

He also developed Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, which the Mayo Clinic describes as an extreme reaction to medication causing severe burns to the skin, nose and mouth.

Stevens-Johnson gave Austin third-degree burns all over his body.

He went to a burn treatment unit for two and a half weeks.

He now has new skin across the affected areas of his body.

Therapy
Austin finally returned home to Woodbridge on Sept. 26.

He attends an acute outpatient rehab program at INOVA Mount Vernon, where he works with a team of six therapists.

To help improve his walking patterns, Austin uses a Bioness device. The Bioness is like a cuff that fits under clothing and wraps around the affected limb. It sends electrical signals into the muscle at regular intervals.

The impulses help the brain remember that the affected limb still exists, and improves the communication pathways interrupted in his brain injury.

Austin goes to an acupuncturist every other week.

The treatment helps with pain management, and it also improves his muscle function.

Today, he can walk on his own, climb stairs, and ride his exercise bike.

The injury damaged the nerve pathways that motivate the left side of his body, but he gets stronger daily.

Austin’s ability to reason, problem-solve and find humor are intact.

He can speak now, but he struggles with muscle control in his tongue.

He communicates easily through text messaging and social media.

Undaunted by his trauma, Austin still intends to skydive again.

He wants to go back to school.

He still wants to be a Marine.

Given all the things he has accomplished so far, and against such tremendous odds, his family has no doubt that Austin will accomplish whatever goals he chooses.

Alive Day
Austin's journey is about more than an individual's fight for life, Frances wrote in an email. “It is about a whole community (around the world really) who came together to support and fight alongside Austin.”

During Austin’s hospital stays, cards, notes and visits from skydivers, Outback workers, and teachers kept the family’s spirits strong.

The Dale City Little League, where Bob coaches, wore a badge with the letter A for Austin on their uniform sleeves last season.

April 6, 2014, marked Austin’s “Alive Day,” the anniversary of his near escape from death. The Glovers planned celebrate with about 60 friends. It is an opportunity to give thanks and celebrate the life and the inspiration that might have ended twelve months ago if it weren’t for a great leap of faith.

“I wouldn’t wish this journey on my worst enemy,” Frances said, but added she sees the experience as a testament to the power of prayer, encouragement, faith and strength.
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