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Teen's Trauma Leads To Inspiring Recovery
Nearly a year ago, just a few days before the new school year started, Colton Crawford and his friend Austin Cooper were racing each other on dirt bikes near Colton's home on St. John Road in Escalon.

Colton, then 14, wasn't wearing a helmet.

It wasn't the first time he'd gone without a helmet, but he'd wear it whenever his mom was home or if he was riding near town. Otherwise, around home he frequently didn't wear one because he just didn't think anything would happen.

But on the evening of Aug. 3, 2010 the unthinkable did happen.

Today, Colton has recovered but he has no recollection of his dirt bike wreck, only what's been told to him. He doesn't remember traveling at 50-60 mph, getting "speed wobbles" in the dirt and losing control. He doesn't remember flying off the bike headlong into a neighbor's sturdily-mounted mailbox and then tumbling into the bushes while the dirt bike hit a tree.

"To recount this, it's very emotional for me. Like a bad nightmare," said mom Rachelle Crawford about her son's ordeal. "...I just want people to know they can't let their kids ride without a helmet."

Rachelle and her husband Matt were with two of their younger children at the community center on Aug. 3 for Outlaws football and cheer practice when Rachelle said she received a frantic phone call from Colton's friend Austin telling her what happened and that Colton was hurt bad. She quickly made her way to the scene, just behind the ambulance.

"At that point, Colton was conscious but unaware...bleeding all over...combative," recalled Rachelle, adding that neighbor Brandon Keller had held Colton on the ground until the first responders arrived because the teen thought he needed to get up and walk home.

Colton's CT scan at Memorial Hospital, Modesto, revealed the left side of his skull at the forehead and surrounding his eye socket was fractured and was compressed into his sinus cavity. The fracture also caused a depression into the frontal lobe of his brain. He was also scalped from his forehead to above his mid-ear on the right side of his head. He was stable and breathing on his own but the doctors intubated him as a precautionary measure and had him Medi-Flighted to UC Davis Medical Center that night.

"I wasn't afraid he was going to die at that point, but what capacity he was going to live," Rachelle said.

Because Colton was stable, UC Davis doctors waited until morning to perform his surgery so he'd have the best care with the full crew of neurosurgeons and plastic surgeons. After a two-and-a-half hour surgery, Rachelle said his neurosurgeons Dr. Moller and Dr. Lee told her and Matt that Colton's brain "looked great." His bleeding was isolated, there was no additional swelling, and they repaired two tears to the dura, the covering of the brain.

A photo of Colton was given to a plastic surgery team to use as a guide to reconstruct his face. He now has 57 screws and nine titanium plates in his face and skull, but he has healed amazingly well.

Two days after surgery, he woke up.

"The first thing he told me was 'stop it' because I was putting Chapstik on his lips," Rachelle said. "It was one of the happiest moments of my life."

After staying in the pediatric Intensive Care Unit for a week, he was moved to the regular pediatric unit for another week. As soon as Colton was fairly awake, he started receiving physical, speech, and occupational therapy. He worked on things like dressing himself, his balance improved, his vision got back to normal.

"Every problem I had corrected itself pretty quickly," Colton said.

Rachelle said dad Matt kept a constant vigil at their eldest son's side while she coped by visiting with people and receiving comfort. She said having visitors, e-mailing, and texting were like her "lifeline." Friends Roxane and Taylor Busch were there for the Crawfords at the hospital, offering help and support.

Colton was released to go home on Aug. 18 of last year, his dad's birthday. He received in-home therapy for his speech, but no longer needed physical therapy. Two weeks later, a large pool of clear fluid collected on his pillow during a nap. It turned out to be cerebrospinal fluid and he was readmitted to UC Davis. Doctors inserted a lumbar drain in his back but it didn't work. Ten days later, doctors operated through his nose and used cartilage from his ear to seal two more tears in his dura that were deep behind his frontal lobe. He was home again after the three-week stay.

Colton has made a near full recovery. Having played football since he was nine, he was told his football days are over because his head injury was like the equivalent of 10 major concussions, Rachelle said. He finished his freshman year, going to school part time and doing home studies. More recently, he's been playing golf and baseball, went on a mission trip to Mexico with his church, and will be back to school full time for his sophomore year.

Of his challenges, Colton said it was hard playing catch up in school but said he was mentally able to do the work.

"For the most part, it's just getting better... It shows me life can be shorter than you think it is," he said of his brain injury, adding that he's learned not to take life for granted.

His mom said his changes are slight, noting that he's a little more laid back and carefree, not as uptight as he once was, and he's even more funny and witty now, too.

"For us, because we're people of faith, it was an absolute miracle...he's at full capacity," Rachelle said.

To thank the paramedics, firefighters, doctors, nurses, family, friends, people who brought meals, prayed, and those who were otherwise there in some fashion, the Crawfords are hosting an open house with hors d'oeuvres and refreshments on the one-year anniversary of Colton's wreck, Wednesday, Aug. 3, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at their home at 19360 St. John Road.

"They gave me hope," Rachelle said tearfully of everyone who helped Colton and supported their family.

Rachelle is also compiling a photo album of Colton's journey to recovery for the open house starting from the day of his accident - photos she could only make herself look at just a couple weeks ago.

Colton hasn't been back on the dirt bike since that day. His mom shakes her head "no" at the question but he said he doesn't have a fear of riding again. If he does, he said he'll be sure to wear a helmet.