Long road ahead: Salisbury teen recovering in hospital after multiple brain surgeries for rare infection

Published 12:05 am Saturday, September 9, 2023

SALISBURY — It was supposed to be a typical year for De’Drick Hinson. The 15-year-old had just started his sophomore year at Salisbury High, and the football season was getting underway. Then, the headaches began.

“This all started on Aug. 17,” said Stephanie Watkins, De’Drick’s mom. “Dedrick called me from school and told me he was not feeling well.” 

“I went and picked him up from school and gave him some Tylenol. He was laying around a lot and started developing a fever and complaining his head was hurting really bad.”

Watkins took De’Drick to the emergency room at Atrium Health in Kannapolis. He was checked for the flu, pneumonia and COVID, but the tests came back negative. 

“They said he did not have any of those and that what he had was probably viral,” Watkins said. “They said it would take its course.”

De’Drick was discharged. However, he continued complaining of headaches and fever, and then nausea developed. 

The following day, Watkins took her son to Novant Health Rowan Medical Center in Salisbury. 

“I let them know this was the second night in a row that we had been to the emergency room,” Watkins said. “They tested him for COVID and the flu again. They sent him home and said it could be allergies.”

The next day was Saturday. 

“We noticed his right eye was swollen, and he had a large thrombosis of the vein on the right side of his neck,” Watkins said. “We got up and took him to (Atrium Health Cabarrus in Concord). This was the third time bringing my baby to the emergency room. I said, ‘Do not deny him any test.'”

The doctors there ordered CT scans, which came back and showed an infection behind De’Drick’s eye and fluids in some spots of his brain. 

After the CT scan, they performed an MRI. The MRI showed fluid on both sides of De’Drick’s brain. 

“When they saw the MRI and saw the fluid on both sides of his brain, they contacted (Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte),” Watkins said. “We were transported by ambulance to Levine Children’s Hospital.”

They arrived there on Aug. 20. 

“We got to the ER, and they already had an operating room scheduled for him at 11 a.m.,” Watkins said. “They immediately had to go into surgery because of the fluid in his brain.”

The surgeons were able to remove a majority of the fluid from both sides of his brain. They discovered that De’Drick had what’s called subdural empyema.

A subdural empyema is a pocket of pus that develops between the dura mater and the middle layer of the tissues (arachnoid mater) covering the brain. 

After the first surgery, De’Drick went to the ICU, where he recovered for a few days. He was alert but still drowsy. His fever would spike again about halfway through the week.

“He started complaining of his left hand being numb,” Watkins said. “By the end of the day, he did not have any feeling in his hand. He could not move his hand or squeeze his fingers.”

Doctors scheduled another MRI, which showed that while the right and left sides had cleared up after the surgery, the fluid spread to the back of the brain.

A second emergency surgery was scheduled. 

“After the second surgery, they had to leave out the bone flap, which is pretty much the skull, to give the brain time to heal,” Watkins said. “He will have his third surgery to put the bone flap back in about three months.”

The doctors explained that it all came from a sinus infection that got to his brain.

Despite two surgeries, De’Drick was still not out of the woods, as he still had an eye infection. 

“When we first got to Charlotte, the major concern was the brain, but once they got the brain sorted out, the next step was to get the infection out of the eye,” Watkins said. 

De’Drick has remained under hospital care following the procedures, and Watkins has not left his side.  

“I have only been home twice since Aug. 20,” Watkins said. “I have only left my baby twice to come home quick and grab some items. I am living here at the hospital day in and day out.”

Despite a three-week stay at the hospital already, Watkins’ and De’Drick’s stint is only just beginning.

“He is going to be under medical care,” Watkins said. “They expect in January 2024 is when he will be cleared.”

For now, his movement is monitored. 

“He cannot lift anything but he is able to walk with support of myself or staff,” Watkins said. 

De’Drick is fully awake and aware of all that he has gone through. It has still been a big shock to the teen.

“I thought I would be playing football right now,” De’Drick said. He wears No. 20 for the Hornets and plays wide receiver and cornerback. 

He’s been passing the time by watching football from his room at the hospital but is eager to return to his normal life. 

“I miss school,” De’Drick said. “I have been asking my mom when I can go back.”

De’Drick likes math and misses his friends, but he has been able to Facetime his teammates.

Most of the symptoms that led to him going to the hospital are gone, and he is on the mend.

The family has been working with Rowan-Salisbury Schools to facilitate an easy transition back to school when De’Drick is ready.

Watkins said the school system and Salisbury High School have been tremendously supportive throughout the ordeal. They have also leaned on family, friends and their faith. 

Even with the help, things have been tough. 

“Once I realized my baby had to have brain surgery, I had to file for my FMLA (family and medical leave),” Watkins said. “I used up the vacation time that I had. I am out of work unpaid.”

The only thing that matters to Watkins is De’Drick’s recovery.

“My son is my priority,” Watkins said. “Hopefully, I can go back (to work) after 12 weeks. I can get another job. I can’t get another De’Drick.”

To help offset the burden of the medical bills that are piling up, a family friend started a GoFundMe.

It can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/keep-fighting-dedrick

Watkins said they plan to keep those funds for the medical bills. In the meantime, though, other expenses are starting to accrue. Watkins welcomed any aid in the form of gift cards for restaurants. She and De’Drick have been using the app DoorDash to order food.

The doctors are optimistic that De’Drick will fully recover despite the long road ahead. The family remains committed to their faith that God will continue to carry them through it all. Watkins has been amazed at the care that her son has received. 

 “The staff has been amazing,” Watkins said. “They have given my child the most unimaginable care that I could think of.”

Knowing now how serious De’Drick’s condition was, Watkins urges other parents to listen to their children when they say something is wrong because you can never know if there is genuinely an underlying ticking time bomb.