Goldens stick together through good, bad times

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 17, 2004

It’s a pleasant August afternoon in Greenville, the kind of temperate (and rare) weather you wish would stick around just a little longer.

Inside the College Street home of Vicki and Jerry Golden, their youngest and oldest sons are working off some of that excess energy all little boys need to burn.

&uot;Michael, pick up those socks…you missed one,&uot; mom Vicki admonishes as the seven-year-old scoots by, eighteen-month-old towhead John William hot on big brother’s heels.

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Vicki moves her head with a classic motherly &uot;what can you do?&uot; shake.

&uot;Matthew, would you like a little more of this banana Popsicle?&uot; she asks her middle son, who is just a few weeks shy of his sixth birthday.

When Matthews’ dark head nods forward and his lips move in an affirmative response, his mother’s face lights up.

Little things mean a lot to the Goldens.

Ever since the December 2003 auto accident that caused Matthew’s traumatic brain injury, the couple takes nothing for granted. And they give thanks for every sign of progress, no matter how seemingly small.

&uot;Matthew’s medical condition has improved drastically,&uot; Vicki Golden says with a smile, adding, &uot;He still has his feeding tube in, but he is starting to take some foods by mouth – it’s so encouraging. He is getting stronger every day.&uot;

She looks around the family’s comfortable kitchen. &uot;It’s just been wonderful to finally be back home for a while,&uot; Vicki says softly.

A harrowing journey

The Golden family has often taken &uot;the long way home&uot; over the last seven and a half months, spending much of their time in hospitals, rehab centers and hotel rooms in Montgomery, Birmingham and Atlanta.

&uot;You know, out of the last seven months, we’ve only been home about seven weeks,&uot; Vicki estimates.

Since his December accident, Matthew has undergone no less than eight surgeries, among them five surgeries on his head, a tracheotomy and the installation of a feeding tube.

On top of all this, the little boy had to fight &uot;one of the worst cases&uot; of sepsis (a severe poisoning of the blood which can cause breathing, blood pressure and the circulatory system to shut down) ever seen by his doctors, his mother says.

&uot;When it comes to what’s typical or normal – you throw all those statistics out when it relates to Matthew. His doctors say, ‘Here’s what usually happens – but we’re taking about Matthew,’&uot; Vicki explains with a smile and a shrug.

Road to recovery

Matthew’s medical odyssey began with an eight-week stint at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, then five weeks at home, followed by a return to Children’s for a VP shunt procedure.

Jerry Golden explains the shunt was crucial to Matthew’s survival. &uot;The shunt allowed cerebral spinal fluid to be &uot;shunted&uot;, or redirected, to another space (in Matthew’s case, the stomach area) since his brain injury wasn’t allowing the fluid to escape. There was a tremendous buildup in Matthew’s cranial pressure. Too much pressure, and you have brain death. Too little pressure – brain death,&uot; his dad explains.

Right after the shunt surgery Matthew was transferred to Atlanta for six weeks due to severe neurostorming episodes.

A neurostorm is created when a massive dumping of the hormones responsible for a person’s fight or flight response takes place. In Matthew’s case, the problem is his hypothalamus won’t allow the response to quit – and his small body goes haywire.

It’s a heart-wrenching sight for a parent.

&uot;During these ‘storms’, Matthew’s heart rate increases sometimes to over 250 beats per minute; his blood pressure shoots up and his fever has gone as high as 109 degrees,&uot; Jerry explains.

Matthew was back home from Atlanta only two weeks when the neurostorming episodes became so bad it prompted his return to Birmingham for another five and a half weeks.

He was again transferred to Atlanta for shunt revision surgery and several more weeks of hospitalization.

Matthew has become rather famous in the southeastern medical community. &uot;He has had more neurostorming episodes than any other patient they’ve seen in Birmingham or Atlanta,&uot; his mother explains.

The severity of the seizures kept the family on tenterhooks for weeks on end.

&uot;The neurostorming episodes became all too frequent and severe. I feared Matthew’s head might explode, or he was going to stop breathing – they were that bad sometimes. His current meds weren’t working. I didn’t want to see him suffer,&uot; Vicki says.

Finding the right balance

After seeing the little boy in the middle of one of his most violent episodes (&uot;He was actually pushing teeth out of their sockets with his tongue&uot;), one of Matthew’s doctors proceeded to call fellow physicians all over the country seeking answers to the little boy’s problem.

After injecting Matthew with the drug Ativan, &uot;we saw relief in about an hour,&uot; Vicki says.

Since then, Matthew has had a bacoflen pump surgically placed. The hockey puck-sized device directs medicine to Matthew’s spinal cord, thus helping to control his neurostorms and improve his muscle tone. The pump has been a godsend to him, Matthew’s mother says.

&uot;It provides him with relief in a matter of minutes, which is wonderful. He hasn’t had a major neurostorm in about a week now…if he starts to get agitated, we give him a little more medicine and he improves,&uot; Vicki explains.

The change she has seen gives Vicki great hope for her middle son.

&uot;Right now we are trying to find the right balance for all Matthew’s meds. We are so encouraged by the improvements we’ve seen so far. He’s getting a lot more movement on his right side…and sometimes he tries so hard to speak. As a former speech therapist, I so want to help him,&uot; she says.

Back to a routine

Once Matthew was released from the Atlanta hospital, the Goldens enjoyed a brief vacation together with extended family. Then it was matter of returning to the College Street house, getting Michael settled in second grade and Matthew enrolled as a homebound student.

After a roller-coaster ride so far this year, the family hopes to see a degree of normalcy return to the household.

&uot;For months people were bringing meals to the house four days a week, which was a wonderful blessing, since it gave me extra time to spend with my boys. However, I’ve told these ladies it’s time to get our family back into a routine,&uot; Vicki explains (Jerry helps with the cooking and household chores).

Matthew will also be returning to physical therapy three times a week at Baptist East in Montgomery. The Goldens are very optimistic about Matthew’s PT.

&uot;They have therapists specifically trained to work with pediatric and neurology cases. Matthew had four sessions at Baptist before they put in the shunt and he had made tremendous progress,&uot; Vicki explains.

The shunt and the many neurostorming episodes may have set Matthew’s progress back, but the Goldens are certain their little boy can regain ground.

&uot;He got so strong when [the Baptist East therapists] worked with him before. Now, with his new programmable shunt and the pump in place, I know Matthew can do it again,&uot; Vicki says with confidence.

She is also investigating new experimental treatments the family hopes will benefit the little boy, including the use of hyperbaric oxygen chambers and glyco-nutrients. Though such treatments are not covered by insurance, Matthew’s mom remains undaunted.

&uot;I will do whatever I can, whatever I have to do – I don’t care. I want him to have a real quality of life and I’ll work for that the rest of my life,&uot; Vicki says with determination.

Paying the price

There has been a high price for the Goldens to pay in more ways than one. While Jerry continues his job as medical manager at Stabler Clinic, Vicki has a full-time job on her hands as Matthew’s caregiver, family chauffeur and &uot;mommy&uot; to their other two active boys.

It’s the toughest job a mom could ever love. It just doesn’t pay too well in the traditional sense of the word.

&uot;Our income has been cut in half because of all this, but we still don’t qualify for government assistance,&uot; Vicki explains.

Out-of-pocket expenses for gas, food and lodging during Matthew’s hospital stays have steadily mounted up, not to mention the cost of the medical care itself. &uot;Just his medications alone, even with insurance, cost us $300 a month,&uot; she says.

Vicki holds up a sheath of insurance claim forms as thick as the Montgomery telephone directory. &uot;And that’s not all of them; we get four or five more every day, I’d say.&uot;

Statistics on patients with traumatic brain injuries like Matthew indicate he will likely face five to ten years of intensive therapy at an estimated cost in excess of $4 million – a staggering sum, to say the least.

With their retirement funds already depleted and the bills still coming in daily, there is no longer a financial cushion for the Goldens to fall back on.

The stresses – physical, emotional and financial – have been great, but the family continues to cling strongly to their Christian beliefs.

&uot;I honestly don’t know what our future holds, I really don’t,&uot; says Vicki.

&uot;But I also don’t know how people make it through something like this without a deep faith. I know this experience has deepened our faith in God and made us more vocal about it. We have received the prayers and encouraging words of so many people and we will always be thankful for that,&uot; she adds.

A fund for Matthew

Several months ago a fund was set up by some concerned local citizens who wanted to help the family with the financial burden of caring for their son.

&uot;What most people don’t realize is insurance doesn’t cover everything,&uot; says attorney Pete Hamilton, who, along with Joy Casey, Robert Householder, Pastor Herbert Brown, David Miller, William Johnson and Dr. Aubrey Stabler, Jr., is one of the committee members overseeing the Matthew Golden Care Fund.

&uot;Once you leave this state to get medical care elsewhere, the guidelines for what is ‘reasonable and customary’ here for insurance purposes don’t necessarily fall under the same guidelines elsewhere. Your costs often go up,&uot; explains Hamilton.

This means, Hamilton says, Matthew’s prolonged hospital stay in Atlanta will likely translate into a &uot;huge&uot; bill with a significant portion of the Matthew’s expenses not insured by their Blue Cross/Blue Shield policy.

As of July 29, of the $4,582 in the fund, Jerry Golden had been forced to spend almost two-thirds of the money on Matthew’s medical expenses, Hamilton explains.

&uot;I know this has been devastating to their finances. You know, you can have a family ‘rainy day’ fund of a couple of thousand dollars, but no one expects they will need a million dollar fund,&uot; Hamilton adds.

Prayer, not pity

The Goldens, who say they have always worked hard for what they have, were at first reluctant to see the fund established. &uot;We don’t want people to think we are begging for money – what we want most of all is their prayers,&uot; Jerry says.

Vicki adds, &uot;[The fund] wasn’t our idea, but I came to feel like maybe this was one of God’s ways of answering some of our prayers…and He always answers them, just not always when, and how, we expect.&uot;

The Matthew Golden Care Fund is set up through the Butler County Bank in Greenville. Committee members insure the monies go toward Matthew’s care by a member co-signing each check with the Goldens.

&uot;This in no way implies a distrust of Jerry or Vicki – we simply want any potential donors to know we do have these safeguards in place,&uot; Hamilton explains.

In addition to dropping off donations at the local bank, committee member Robert Householder has also devised a way donors can make their contributions by credit card via the Internet website at

While the Goldens have worked at maintaining an upbeat attitude, Vicki would be the first to tell you they are far from superhuman.

&uot;We do have down days…not pity parties, exactly but more or less what you’d call crying parties. We start remembering all the things Matthew used to say and do -those goofy faces he would make – and we start laughing,&uot; she says.

In a wistful tone, Vicki Golden adds, &uot;Then we cry because we don’t know if we’ll ever see him like that again.&uot;

She watches her little boy stretch, make a fist with his right hand and pull it back. &uot;There, did you see that? That’s great, Matthew!&uot; his proud mom exclaims with delight.

Little things mean a lot to the Goldens.