- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
While a man fights to get out of a coma, his family fights to get him the long-term care he will need.
John Shifflett, 28, had his second wedding anniversary in late February while lying in a bed at Prince George’s Hospital Center after a car accident earlier in the month.
Doctors told his family that he had two to three hours to live. When he survived the first night, they told his family the next 72 hours were critical, family members said. A neurosurgeon then said he would never get off a ventilator, but two days later, he was breathing on his own.
“Basically, with head trauma, they don’t really know,” said John Shifflett’s wife, Karen Shifflett, 32. “They can’t really estimate an outcome. It’s all how his brain heals, how he responds to therapy. There’s no set-in-stone outcome for him.”
In the meantime, John Shifflett’s family is trying to find a way to pay for the rehabilitation he will need. John Shifflett is under Karen Shifflett’s medical insurance, but it does not cover rehabilitation for him after he leaves the hospital, only nursing home care.
His family has been told to put him in a nursing home facility for long-term care, but the rehabilitation could help him recover from the coma.
A breakfast benefit and silent auction will be held from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday at the Potomac Heights Volunteer Fire Department in Indian Head to raise money for living and medical expenses for the Shiffletts. The cost is a donation of $10 per person.
A silent auction also will be held with items from Thirty One, Scentsy, Pampered Chef, Maggie May Collection, Tastefully Simple, Wildtree, Blue Crabs Baseball, Great American Tattoo Co., Napa Auto Parts and Firemen’s Auto Glass, and gift cards from The Greene Turtle, Applebee’s and Rita’s of La Plata. A cake walk and a 50/50 raffle also are planned.
“It’s day by day, then you’ll know,” said his mother, Linda Luttrell, of John’s recovery.
“When he comes out of the coma,” added John’s stepfather, Larry Luttrell. “If he comes out of the coma.”
Karen Shifflett said that the family has seen John Shifflett make progress when doctors expected otherwise. A scale rates the level of coma, with zero representing no brain response and 15 normal brain function. John was at Level 2 when he came to the hospital after the car accident. He is now at Level 8, yet still is considered to be in a coma. Rehabilitation could help him improve, but without the help of insurance, such treatment could cost more than $75,000 per month, family members said.
John also has 17 staples on the left side of his skull, a rod to repair a broken left shin bone and pins in his broken right kneecap. Swelling on his brain continues to cause the coma, family members said.
Doctors keep telling John’s parents and Karen that John is young and rehabilitation is possible. Rehabilitation would teach him motor skills again and how to eat on his own.
According to John’s mother, he can move his arms and squeeze hands. He can look at his family, but he cannot always respond to directions. He remains on a feeding tube, but he can turn his head and open his eyes, and has started to open his mouth.
“The nurses seem to think he remembers me and knows that I’m in there, because whenever I talk to him, his heart rate will go up,” Karen Shifflett said. The nurses take this as a sign that John recognizes his wife’s voice.
Karen said she keeps a list each day of John’s progress and the people who come to visit.
John is scheduled to be moved out of the intensive care unit before Saturday’s benefit. The family must soon find a nursing home facility to take over his care.
Tragedy is nothing new for John’s family. John’s sister, Kelly, died in a car crash in King George County, Va., in 1998. She was 21. John’s stepbrother, Larry Luttrell Jr., died from electrocution in 1994 in Solomons Island.
“John’s all I have,” Linda Luttrell said.
The details of the accident remain unclear. John’s family members only know what his boss could tell them.
On Feb. 6, John was working in an area near railroad tracks. Trains had been coming and going all day, loading and unloading cars. John would have seen the flashing lights at the railroad tracks, but there are no arms at that crossing to go down and prohibit cars from crossing the tracks when a train is coming. At 4:30 p.m., an SUV crossed over the tracks and John followed. The train hit John’s Mustang on the driver’s side, and he was ejected from the vehicle.
The family said the Prince George’s County Police Department is investigating.
Karen and John Shifflett met when they worked together at Copart Co. She got tickets to a NASCAR race at Richmond International Raceway in September 2004 and invited him to join her without even thinking about whether it would lead to dating him.
The couple married Feb. 26, 2011. Karen is a jury clerk, and John is a heavy equipment operator. They own a home in Faulkner.
John, known to friends as “John John” or “Big John,” has been playing softball since he was 18. He and his team competed in the Southern Softball Association of America World Championship.
In support of John, Larry Luttrell and John’s friends have vowed not to shave their beards. Those who are firefighters are growing mustaches because beards are not permitted.
“When John shaves, we’ll shave,” Larry Luttrell said.