Timi Bernhardt was driving her three-and-a-half-year-old son, Alec, to school when she swerved to miss a stalled car and spun into a concrete median. At first, she thought neither of them was hurt. Alec was still strapped in the car seat that had saved his life, and he looked fine.
The paramedics who quickly arrived on the scene knew differently. “I’m so thankful for those guys,” Timi says. “They swooped in and took care of everything. We will never move from Houston because of the world-class medical care we have here.
“At Ben Taub, they tried to take care of me, but I just wanted to know about Alec. A patient advocate understood my distress and brought me the facts I needed.”
Timi and George Bernhardt had adopted Alec from Bulgaria just a year before. “He was everything we could have hoped for,” she says. But on that day in March 2000, the news was grim; doctors had discovered a bleed in Alec’s head.
“The doctor who gave me the bad news struggled not to cry. She sat with me and held my hand,” Timi remembers.
Alec was in a coma for two weeks and in Harris Health Ben Taub Hospital for three. His brain wasn’t communicating with his body. When he awoke, his movement was limited to blinking; it didn’t matter, his parents had their son back. Whether they spoke to him in German or in English, they knew he understood.
Every day in the long recovery brought a small success. “Everything is possible,” Timi stresses. “They didn’t expect him to live or even to move, but now he’s in high school!”
Today, the Bernhardts face a new, but welcomed, challenge: the teenage years. At 16, Alec loves music, art and driving; he recently got his learner’s permit! His mother calls him “a very kind human being.” He spent last summer volunteering at an assisted-living facility. He’s even patient with Caroline, his 13-year-old sister.
Timi is forever grateful. “I wish people would lose the idea that Ben Taub is only a hospital for indigents. You have the best of the best teaching and training there. They will save your life — the rest is up to you.”