Words on Blake Finley’s T-shirt urge “Just don’t quit” while his headband suggests to “Just trust God.” The inspiration is driving the 12-year-old soccer fan to regain the life he nearly lost last fall.
On the foggy evening of Nov. 30, 2018, Blake was walking with a friend when his soccer ball rolled into the street. Blake bent to retrieve it and was struck by a car near his home in Auburn, Kansas. He doesn’t recall being pinned underneath the vehicle or waiting for the first responders. It’s a horrifying image that his mom can’t forget.
“It was a mother’s worst nightmare,” Makaila Bryant said, recalling the adrenaline-rushing two block sprint to her son’s accident scene. Waiting for first responders to arrive seemed like an eternity to the young mom. Feeling helpless and distraught, Makaila pleaded “Get my baby, get the car off him!” Zach Martens, Blake’s stepfather, agreed it was “one of the hardest things, seeing the image that we saw.”
Emergency personnel finally freed Blake and he was rushed via ambulance to Stormont Vail in Topeka. The trauma team took inventory of Blake’s injuries: bruised lungs, lacerations to his face, shoulder and legs and a severe traumatic brain injury. After seven surgeries, including skin grafts, Blake remained in a medically-induced coma. Doctors shared a grim prognosis. “I would of traded places with him in a heartbeat,” Makaila said.
A ventilator hummed quietly keeping the young boy breathing while his family and a huge network of friends prayed. “Disbelief and shock” is how Robert Finley describes seeing his normally energetic son lying motionless and hooked to machines. Working in Colorado, Robert had driven through the night to be at Blake’s bedside. “I just couldn’t believe my son was actually hit by a car,” Robert said.
After three and a half weeks, Blake woke up. His family debated choices for the extensive rehabilitation Blake needed and chose Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals Lincoln Campus. “He was a lump on a log, not moving, talking, eating, nothing,” Makaila said when her son began rehab on Dec. 28.
Blake’s team worked with his family to establish goals to get the young athlete back on his feet. A Facebook page, BLAKE Strong #5, shared updates on his progress. Over 700 supporters applauded each small gain. Days after arriving at Madonna, Blake smiled as he stood with assistance.
Soccer would be used in different ways to help Blake reach goals. “It’s a way for them [therapists] to connect, to help and motivate,” Robert said. Six weeks after the accident, Blake gingerly kicked his own soccer ball during physical therapy. A giant step forward for the competitive soccer player who loves playing defender. “It’s rewarding to watch him return to the sport he loves,” Physical Therapist Scott Fandrich said.
Intense rehab sessions filled Blake’s day with his family cheering along. Speech therapy challenged his brain with computer games to regain cognitive skills. “My brain is healing very well!” exclaimed Blake. In occupational therapy, Blake’s compromised vision was addressed with individualized activities in Madonna’s vision group. Technology like the Dynavision, along with basics like sorting shapes and colors, helped his brain heal and eyes refocus. Madonna’s onsite school kept Blake on track with his seventh grade class. With assistance from his teacher, Sally Wallace, Blake discovered a love for math. “I think Sally brought the school life back into him,” Makaila said. Physical therapy usually involved soccer – whether playing catch on the Proprio, a machine to test Blake’s balance, or talking soccer on the ICARE, a motorized elliptical machine boosting his physical strength. “I love you guys, you helped me get back to walking, running, talking,” Blake said.
Three months post-accident, Blake returned home to a hero’s welcome. The local fire station filled with community supporters who followed his journey. “I look at him as a hero,” Makaila said. “He never gave up on himself, pushed really hard to get back to where he is.”
To learn more about Madonna's unique approach to pediatric rehabilitation, click here.
See coverage of Blake’s story, courtesy of WIBW Channel 13: