Missionary hit by bus amazes doctors and therapist with his recovery

Published: Thursday, Aug. 9 2012 5:31 p.m. MDT

Elder Britten Schenk was severely injured in March when he was hit by a bus while serving a mission in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Less than five months after his accident, he is talking and walking.

Joe DeLuca, Deseret News

LOGAN — A few months ago Elder Britten Schenk, a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was hit by a bus while serving in Brazil and suffered severe injuries. The doctors there never expected him to recover.

But less than five months later, doctors are calling his case a miracle.

On March 16, Elder Schenk was hit by a bus as he started across a street in Sao Paulo. He suffered traumatic brain damage, and his parents expected the worst when they arrived a few days later.

"They had told us that there had been no blood or oxygen supply to his brain, so we were going to the hospital to tell him goodbye," Britten's mother, Karla Schenk, said with tears in her eyes.

The neurosurgeon handling Schenk's case told them things had changed. He told them he thought their son would survive, but that it was not necessarily a good thing. Doctors in Brazil didn’t give him much of a chance of any type of recovery. 

The couple found comfort in their faith. "We just had the feeling that he was going to be OK. Even when they gave us the bad news, it was OK," said Steve Schenk, Britten's father.

Britten Schenk was in a medically induced coma to help reduce the swelling in his brain. The first few weeks in the hospital he was fighting infections and pneumonia. After four weeks in the hospital in Brazil, he was transferred to University Hospital in Salt Lake City. He spent seven weeks at the U., where he had to relearn everything.

Britten now works with speech pathologist Kathy Gantz at Intermountain Regional Hospital in Logan and has daily physical therapy sessions with Nick Smith at Sports Academy.

"I can walk pretty much normal now. I can talk really good," Britten said.

His parents, who live in Hyde Park, have shared emails with his Brazilian neurosurgeon. "He told us they continue to talk about Britten every day, and his recovery, and he said, ‘We truly witnessed a miracle,'" Karla Schenk said.

When Britten was injured, the Schenks started a blog. Soon, hundreds and hundreds offered support. The blog was a way to communicate with family. The Schenks found great comfort from perfect strangers.

“There were many days that we sat in the hospital discouraged, and when we could look at the blog and read the testimonies, it just gave us such strength, that we can get through this,” she said.

"It's been very positive," Steve Schenk said. "Comments on the blog from people that we don't have a clue who they are, but they're friends now," he said with a smile.

The blog also helped Britten. He's had some frustrating times with his recovery, but people’s thoughts and prayers, he said, have really helped him.

"I was so thankful for all those people who have helped me, and they were praying for me and hoping that I would get better and better," Britten said.

Britten's eyesight was damaged in the accident, and it may take a year or two before he returns to college.

Before his mission, he had taken classes in pre-med/pre-dental. Going back to school will be difficult. “I’m not sure he’ll be able to go into the medical field like he had planned on, but I know whatever he does, it will be great,” his mother said.

He doesn't know what he'll study, but there is one thing he is sure of. "I still want to do stuff that I'll be able to help other people too," Britten said.

His insurance covered only 20 out-patient therapy visits, and he will need therapy every day for another one to two years, his mother said.

While he continues to improve in his therapy, Britten's extended family is having a fundraiser on Aug. 18 to help pay for future medical costs. Britten's Run is a 5K or one-mile Run/Walk benefit will be held at Heritage Park on 2456 S. 800 West in Nibley. For more information, visit brittensrun.com.

His recovery will be long, and several surgeries are on the horizon, but Britten’s mother said he “will make a full recovery. We have no doubt. It’s just going to take time.”

E-mail: cmikita@desnews.com

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