Nearly 150 hours of facial reconstruction
By Scott Bellile
A 10-year-old boy from Dale who is undergoing facial reconstruction is doing well following recent surgeries and community support, his mother said.
Brandon Rudie, son of Brenda and Scott Rudie, was critically injured in July 2009 at the age of 2 in a riding lawn mower accident.
The accident resulted in bone and muscle loss in the left side of his face, the amputation of his left ear and permanent scarring. The lawn mower blade just missed his eye by millimeters, Brenda said.
To date, Brandon has undergone 27 surgeries for a total of 147 hours under the knife, Brenda said. The goal is restoring his facial features as much as possible.
His latest operation took place May 5. Surgeons shifted his expanders that were placed in his forehead and along his hairline downward. Brandon’s expanders, implanted in February, were filled with fluid every two weeks to stretch out his facial skin and make his flat head rounder.
This month’s operation also closed a hole in Brandon’s neck where his tracheal was removed last year and placed a new tear duct in his eye.
It has been a long seven years for Brandon and the family. Brandon’s past surgeries have included skin and bone grafts transplanted from elsewhere on his body.
“Some of them were like, god, this is killer,” Brenda said of those operations.
Brenda recalled July 11, 2009, the date that changed Brandon’s life. Scott was cutting his parents’ grass with 2-year-old Brandon and a 5- or 6-year-old cousin seated in an ATV cart pulled behind the riding mower.
Scott entered some thistles and went to back up. When he looked back, Brandon was no longer sitting in the ATV cart.
When Scott lifted the mower, he found Brandon underneath.
“I looked at the lawn mower like a thousand times and I don’t understand how he got under,” Brenda said. “They say that’s why they call them accidents, but still.”
Brandon’s older sister Alisha, who is now 14, pulled him out.
Brenda’s brother wrapped a packing blanket around Brandon’s head to control the bleeding. Doctors told the family this saved Brandon’s life.
He was taken by ambulance to Neenah and then airlifted to the children’s hospital in Milwaukee. Surgery began right away.
The scariest part of it all, Brenda said, was “not knowing that he was going to make it.”
Many surgeries later, Brenda said, “He came a long way.”
Doctors expect Brandon’s surgeries to continue until age 16, when the growing in his face will slow down.
Brandon said he is not in pain at the moment but he does not like the surgeries.
While the surgeries are lessening in intensity, Brenda said as Brandon ages, they are getting harder.
“He hates IVs, getting put under,” Brenda said.
The operation Brandon underwent on Feb. 3 to place his expanders created noticeable scarring on his face. Brandon worried about how he would look in front of his classmates with the expanders.
Thus, a hat drive began. Through word of mouth, the web and WFRV-Channel 5, Brandon’s supporters and strangers from around the country sent him various hats to wear to cover his scars. All kinds of varieties came in: cowboy hats, knit hats, baseball caps. Thanks to the public outpouring, he can now wear everything in his head from the Green Bay Packers to Pikachu to a knit octopus.
Brandon is a fourth-grader in Amy Hoppenjan’s class at Readfield Elementary School. Readfield granted Brandon an exception to the rules and allows him to wear a hat in school.
One day in February, the school offered to let students wear their own hats in support of Brandon with an optional, voluntary donation. Staff and families contributed over $300, Readfield Principal Kristin Grable said.
The proceeds were used to purchase restaurant and gasoline gift cards for the Rudies as they commute to Milwaukee for Brandon’s regular appointments.
“The staff and families of Readfield continue to support Brandon and his family and are proud to be a part of Brandon’s journey,” Grable said. “Staff have worked diligently to catch Brandon up when his surgeries cause absences and are proud of his hard work. … As Brandon transitions to the Intermediate School next year we will continue to follow his amazing story.”
Readfield’s support made a difference because the medical expenses do strain the family’s finances, Brenda said.
“It was overwhelming. It was awesome to see,” Brenda said. “I couldn’t thank them enough. They’ve been there so much.”
The Rudie family is accepting financial contributions to help pay for Brandon’s surgeries. To contribute, stop at New London’s First State Bank or mail donations to: First State Bank, 113 W. North Water St., PO Box 268, Account name: Rudie Family.