'Brain bolt' saves young man

After Ryan Jones fell into a coma following a major car crash in 2016, his mom and dad were presented with a decision no parent wants to make.

Their 22-year-old son’s heart had stopped beating for more than 40 minutes, cutting off his oxygen and causing a traumatic brain injury. However, doctors said they could try a new experimental procedure called a brain bolt they believed could help Ryan’s recovery.

All Donna and Jim had to do was sign a consent form.

“If my parents said no, I wouldn’t be alive,” Jones told The Tri-City News during an interview at his aunt’s Coquitlam home on Friday.

The brain bolt is a monitoring device that was funded through the Vancouver General Hospital and UBC Hospital Foundation. The technology allowed doctors to closely monitor Jones’ brain through specialized catheters, giving the medical team up-to-the-second information, including oxygen levels and blood pressure.

“Immediately after putting in the catheter the team was able to begin healing Ryan’s brain,” said Dr. Myp Sekhon, who along with Dr. Don Griesdale oversaw the recovery.

Within six weeks, Jones woke up. 

Three years later, the 25-year-old is now walking and talking and recently found a job with a construction company in Fort St. John. 

“I’m definitely lucky to be alive,” he said. “All of the stars aligned for me to be alive.”

Jones may have been the first in Canada to receive a brain bolt, but the procedure has proven so effective that he has not been the last. 

In fact, he said one of the reasons why his parents agreed to the treatment was they knew it would provide information that could be used to help others. 

“It’s helping keep more people alive,” he said.


Jones does not remember much from the day of the accident. 

A wildland firefighter, he was driving to a blaze near Fort St. John when he ran into a late-season snowfall. He had recently swapped out his snow tires and when he hit a slippery patch he veered into the oncoming lane.  

The crash occurred shortly after 6 a.m. By dinnertime, he had been medevaced to VGH. 

While Jones has made astounding progress since his accident, the road to recovery has been long. 

He still has no memory of the six months he spent at Vancouver General Hospital after the crash. He also spent another nine months at GF Strong, where he slowly relearned how to walk and talk.

“Finding words, I couldn’t even find words most of the time,” he said. “Someone would ask me a question. In my head, I would know what I should be saying, but the words, I didn’t know how to describe what to say to the person.”

He recently underwent a 15-month program at the Watson Centre Society for Brain Health in Burnaby, which he said has had a dramatic improvement on his ability to speak. 

Jones also credits his family for having his back and pushing him to keep moving ahead with his recovery.

“That support network has brought me to where I am today,” he said. 

Still, the magnitude of what he has overcome over the last three years is never far from Jones’ mind. 

“My heart had stopped for a total of 40 minutes that day,” he said in amazement. “For someone to have 40 minutes of no heart beating in one day... It’s intense.”

-Gary McKenna / Tri-City News

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