The Murkisons’ story began on a regular December night in 2011.
“Just like any other family, we went out to see some Christmas lights,” Ellen Murkison recently told the Rotary Club of Downtown Statesboro. “And, unfortunately, on the way home from that, we were involved in a car accident. Our lives changed in a split second that night, and nothing has been the same since.”
She was in town Nov. 13 as part of a tour she is giving to share her family’s story, which she also tells in a recently released book, “Prayers from Fiji.”
That December night, the whole family — David Murkison, whose parents live in Statesboro, along with Ellen Murkison and their two sons, Ben, 10, and Brian, 7 — was in the car when the accident happened at Old River Road North and Lakeview Road on Dec. 2, 2011. Both Ben and Brian were immediately taken to a trauma center in Savannah, but it was Brian who sustained the worst of the injuries.
“They told me his prognosis was very, very poor, because children of this age do not usually survive head trauma,” Ellen Murkison said, recalling what the doctors said about Brian.
After three hours, the doctors came out and told the Murkisons about Brian. He had survived for the time being, but his trauma was so severe that his future was uncertain. Like any other part of the body — an ankle, an arm — that gets injured, his brain was expected to swell.
“It swells when an impact happens, and there’s no room for our brains to swell because we have this nice, thick skull to protect it,” Ellen Murkison said. “So the prediction was that Brian’s brain would continue to swell, and swell, and swell, until his brain stem was crushed.
“How difficult was it as a mother to hear this prediction?” she continued. “One second, we’re in the car, we’re having a fun time. Just a few hours later, you’re hearing this prediction that your 7-year-old child is about to pass.”
Prayers from Fiji
Ben, who recovered much more quickly from his injuries, dealt with his brother’s plight “the way a 10-year-old boy might, with some humor,” his mother said.
When Ben’s grandmother told him that people all around the world were praying for Brian — he has relatives in Illinois and even Korea — Ben quipped: “Well, technically, Grandma, we don’t know anyone in Fiji, so there’s not really prayers from all over the world.”
“I’m not sure where he got Fiji from,” Murkison said. “But, what happened was, it started our desire to help Ben find someone in Fiji. And so, on social media, the word went out. These boys are in the hospital, and this big brother wants someone in Fiji to pray for his little brother to get better. And the word just spread and spread. And I think the word that we use now in 2014 is, 'it went viral.' Thousands and thousands of people started responding. ‘I’m not in Fiji, but here in Germany, I’m praying for you.’ ‘I’m not in Fiji, but in North Carolina I’m praying for you.’ People in Afghanistan, in Hawaii — in all kinds of remote places — in Africa, in China, in India. Places you would never, ever expect.
“And yet, in just a couple of short hours, we heard that we indeed had prayers from Fiji,” she continued, putting emphasis on those last three words. “In fact, a couple of people from Fiji. What that told me was that, in our lowest moment, we had the support of a community.”
During her presentation to the Rotary Club, Murkison showed a series of photographs. The first was of a world map on a wall with a bunch of thumbtacks in it. Each thumbtack represented where a prayer came from, including all 50 states, Canada and Mexico, several European countries, Russia, several Middle Eastern and African countries, India, Indonesia, Australia and — yes — Fiji.
But the road was by no means easy for Brian. After two weeks, the doctors told the Murkisons the unfortunate results of his MRI. The scan found too much brain damage for him to ever have hope of waking up from the coma he was in. That if he did actually survive, he would always need to be connected to a ventilator because he would never be able to breathe on his own again. That he would need a feeding tube. And that he would never have any cognitive skills or, indeed, any kind of awareness.
“It was that dire. We said, ‘Have you ever seen anyone recover from an injury this bad before?’” Murkison said. “And they said, ‘No. Never.’”
She added, “David and I did our best to try to accept what was going to happen, pray for peace for our family. And we said our goodbyes to Brian. We waited by his bedside, thinking that any breath was going to be his last.”
The only person who didn’t give up hope, Murkison said, was Ben. Even after the family moved Brian to Ogeechee Area Hospice, Ben insisted that Brian should get Christmas presents. He was convinced that there would be a Christmas miracle, that Brian would pull through.
It happened. The doctors couldn’t explain it, but on Christmas Eve, 2011, Brian’s appearance “had drastically changed,” she said.
“He still looked like he was in bad shape,” Murkison said. “But there was actually a much worse-looking child the day before this.”
Brian slowly started to recover. Two days after Christmas, he focused his eyes and woke up from the coma. He was transferred out of hospice to a children’s care center in Savannah.
After a month in hospitals and the stay in hospice, Brian was finally discharged so he could continue to receive care back home in Atlanta. The Murkisons went back there, but the hard work for Brian was just beginning. At a hospital there, “he was the most injured child of anyone on the rehab floor,” Ellen Murkison said. “You can see in the photographs here, it was impossible for him to even hold his own head up originally,” she said. “He was in a wheelchair. He had no use of his arms or legs. He couldn’t eat. He had a feeding tube through a port in his stomach. And yet, every day, we got up and did what we had to do to help him.”
Trips to the rehab center. Trips to therapy. Trips to the doctor. Finding what worked. Encouraging him. He made it home from the Atlanta hospital in February 2012.
One day at home, Murkison said, she heard a sound she hadn’t heard in three months — the sound of Brian laughing. His brother had joked about something only boys will joke about, she said, but just the fact that Brian was laughing made it an unforgettable day.
As time passed, Brian learned to walk again. He made it back to school in fall 2012 and started second grade.
Ben, now 13, is a Boy Scout and plans to go to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico next summer.
“He is a fine young man,” Murkison said.
Brian, now 10, still has work to do. He still goes through therapy. But he is once again the clever, funny boy he was before the accident.
“Brian is just a joy,” his mother said. “He really has a love for life and an infectious, friendly outgoing attitude that is really not uncommon in people who have had a near-death experience. It’s just lovely to be his mom — most of the time.”
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.