There was a day when the O’Brien family would have been described as the typical, everyday hardworking family; active in sports, school, church, and community. They have always been incredibly blessed with amazing friends and family who have especially supported them through the unfortunate and life changing events of the last three years. The O’Brien Family – Tim, Kristen, Britt and Gracie, moved to the Hartland neighborhood in October 2003 and have raised their two children, Britt (21) and Gracie (19), among the friends and neighbors who are now considered family.
In December 2018, at the age of 47, Tim was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. After multiple rounds of chemo and radiation and several surgeries to remove tumors from his liver, colon, and pancreas, he is still fighting after another recurrence of cancer that showed up on a routine scan in October 2021. Tim is currently receiving bi-weekly chemotherapy treatments for his cancer.
In August 2021, Tim’s cancer was in remission and life was pretty normal. The O’Briens received a middle-of-the-night phone call on August 7, 2021 that no parent ever wants to receive. Their 21-year old son, Britt, was being airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital
in Atlanta, GA after nearly drowning from a diving accident while on a summer trip with friends and Centre College lacrosse teammates in GA. Britt had mistakenly dove into the deep end of a pool when the group had gone for a night swim. He realized that he was paralyzed and his friend pulled him out of the water just as he was sure he was going to drown. He had a large cut on his head and could not feel any part of his body. Kristen arrived in Atlanta at 7 a.m. and was told that Britt had a severe C4-C6 spinal cord injury and would never be able to move anything below his chest. Emergency surgery was completed that day to decompress his spine and do whatever repair could be done. The surgery was as successful as it could be and Britt was taken off the ventilator a few hours after surgery only to be placed back on it about eight hours later. Everything took a turn for the worse in the next few days as Britt developed a severe case of pneumonia. During those very scary days, the O’Briens were able to get Britt admitted to the ICU at The Shepherd Center in Atlanta via what is called a “vent to vent” transfer. A day after his arrival at Shepherd, Britt’s oxygen levels plummeted several times and it was very touch and go. They almost lost their precious son more than once, and Britt remained in critical care in a medically-induced coma for about five weeks. He finally started to improve and stabilize and remained at The Shepherd Center until January 28, 2022. For now, he is considered a quadriplegic but is working hard to regain all the mobility he can. He currently uses a power wheelchair and has some movement in his arms and wrists but still has very little fine motor skills in his fingers and hands. This leaves him needing full time caregivers to help him with all daily living tasks.
Once discharged from The Shepherd Center, Centre College helped pave the way for Britt to return to school. Britt requires around the clock care and this has been a huge undertaking to arrange. He is only taking two classes while he continues to attend therapy at Frazier Rehabilitation Center in Louisville three days per week. The O’Briens’ home is currently being renovated to accommodate him which has required an addition. He will return home to live with his family this summer and continue to attend therapy in Louisville five days per week.
The upcoming Hartland Tour of Homes will celebrate how far Britt has come as well as showing the O’Brien family that they are not alone and will continue to be loved and supported on their journey to complete healing for both Britt and Tim.
The Hartland Tour of Homes, benefiting Britt O’Brien, is scheduled for Jun 12. This article can also be found on page 8 of the June 2022 edition of the Hamburg Journal.