The impact Drew Hughes made on others is astounding. He brought a balance to our home that was undeniable. Drew was always happy and comfortable in his own skin. Drew had this way of bringing joy, laughter and light with him wherever he went. He had this smirk that was almost magical — that would lighten the mood and bring a smile to your face — even if you were trying not to smile. He was his daddy’s boy, and you just couldn’t stay mad at him. He was definitely mischievous and had quite a sense of humor as well; just ask anyone who knew him. His heart was as big as a house. Drew admired his big brothers and was extremely close to both. He never wanted to be “as good” as them in sports or any other aspect of life . . . he wanted to be better. They pushed him, coached him and cheered for him as much as his dad did. He possessed the best qualities of his family members — his dad’s determination; his mother’s heart; and his brothers’ competitiveness and charm. He was such a bright light to his family and friends.
It was June 28, 2013. There was a mix of sun and clouds that day in Drew’s hometown. Newport, N.C., located near several beach towns along the southernmost part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, all popular summer vacation spots, was teeming with the sights and sounds of summer. The temperature hovered in the low 80s along the coast and around 90 further inland for most of the day — relatively comfortable for that time of year.
As the clouds rolled in that evening, Drew, 13, was, as usual, skateboarding with his friends.
Drew’s father, David Hughes, a retired highway patrolman, worked in the information services department at the local hospital. He was at work when one of Drew’s older brothers called to tell him that Drew had fallen backwards from his skateboard and struck his head on the pavement.
As any parent would be, David and his wife Kim — a schoolteacher, who arrived at Drew’s side a few minutes after the incident — were concerned. Their fears, though, subsided quickly, if not altogether. Drew was talking to his mom and older brother, and David knew, through his experience as a police officer and with his two oldest sons, both of whom had suffered concussions, that if he was alert and communicating, then there was no apparent nor immediate cause for too much concern.
Still, head injuries can be a scary thing. So David walked to the emergency department to let the staff know that his son was on the way in an ambulance, with his mother by his side — while the sky, and the clouds, grew dark.
“I told them that my son Drew was on the way and I wanted him transferred to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, N.C., as soon as arrangements could be made,” David later wrote. “I wanted him evaluated by a specialist that wasn’t available at our hospital. I wasn’t sure how severe Drew’s injury was, but I didn’t want to wait until he got there to start working on transferring him.
“I wanted the transport to be established, so as soon as Drew arrived, there would be no delay in getting him to a hospital that could handle any situation that may come up.”
When he arrived at what is now Carteret Health Care, Drew’s dad remained by his side as he was prepared for transport. About an hour had passed since the accident when doctors performed a CT scan. Everything came back normal, save a small amount of gas within his temporomandibular joint, the medical term for the joint of the jaw.
Though none was seen, the doctors suspected a fracture at the base of his skull.
Still, Drew was awake and alert, if a bit unnerved by it all.
“Dad, I’m scared,” he said.
“You’re going to be OK,” David replied.
“I believed that with all my heart,” the elder Hughes later wrote. “I know my son, as every parent knows their children, and I knew he was OK.”
Eastern North Carolina is a proverbial powder keg for summer storms. They often arise with little warning, other than a stiff breeze and sudden coolness in the air.
By 9:30 p.m., the temperature had fallen into the sixties, and near-30 mph gusts swept away the heat of the summer. A thunderstorm brought with it heavy rain and washed away any chance of safely transporting Drew roughly 80 miles — or approximately 32 minutes — to Vidant by helicopter.
Instead, sometime later, arrangements were made to transport Drew via Carteret’s EMS service. The only crew working that night was on its way back from Greenville, so the staff at Carteret had to find a driver and paramedic to get Drew on his way, until they could meet the ambulance currently in transit and exchange personnel.
A respiratory therapist and nurse were assigned to the trip as well, and prior to departure, Drew’s parents were informed that Drew would be intubated as a precaution.
David began to worry. He didn’t understand why. Drew was breathing on his own and had been alert and acting normally since the accident occurred. Feeling that he just needed to trust that the staff knew what they were doing, David told his son he loved him as he left the room.
“I love you, too, Dad,” Drew replied.
Not long after being intubated for the first time in his life, Drew woke up and pulled out the tube, heightening his father’s concerns.
The staff sedated Drew again and resumed preparation for his transport to Greenville.
Two and a half hours after Drew had fallen from his skateboard, Kim came up to her husband and told him that she wanted to kiss her son goodbye before they had to leave his side.
“You can kiss him when we get to Greenville,” David told her. “He’s fine.”
What happened on that fateful ride changed the lives of everyone involved forever.
During the ride, while his parents followed closely behind the ambulance, Drew again awakened and attempted to remove the intubation. This time, when the respiratory therapist reintubated Drew, the tube became misplaced and was not in Drew’s airway. According to Drew’s father, transport notes show that during a 10-minute period between 11:15 p.m. and 11:25 p.m. Drew’s heart rate dropped into the 30s with no palpable pulse.
Void of oxygen for 30 minutes, Drew had no brain activity upon his arrival at Vidant.
There was little the doctors there could do.
After 13 years, nine months and 29 days. Drew Hughes was gone.
It rained, off and on, for days after that.
And shortly after the skies cleared, the Do It For Drew Foundation was born.
Founded as a 501(c)(3) organization by David and Kim, the Foundation, affectionately known by its DI4D acronym, focuses on three goals:
First, the foundation strives to bring awareness and education regarding Drew’s case in hopes that it might improve emergency care in rural communities and thus help prevent other families from having to endure the pain and hardships experienced by the Hughes.
Second, it raises money to support local recreational and school athletic programs, due to the benefit the family says those programs had for Drew and his older brothers. David also has volunteered as a coach several times over the years and says he has seen firsthand how team sports build character in a young person.
Lastly, the foundation funds The Drew Hughes Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a local high school student. The scholarship’s first recipient will receive the award later this year, 2017, the year of Drew’s graduating class.
Since the foundation was formed, the Hughes family has traveled all over North Carolina, speaking with emergency medical professionals about Drew and how to improve emergency medical care. Drew’s story has been shared at the Virginia state EMS Symposium, and his parents will be keynote speakers at the Tennessee Emergency Medical Services Education Association (TEMSEA) Conference in Nashville this July.
Many programs like the N.C. State Emergency Medicine Program and the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care in Los Angeles use Drew’s story to teach the importance of the jobs they do. The North Carolina Respiratory Care Board has implemented changes to prevent future errors like those that took Drew’s life and has developed a continuing education course based on Drew’s case.
Numerous programs and agencies across the country have been in contact with the Hughes family and use Drew’s story to help improve medical care in their areas.
The foundation has donated thousands of dollars to local sports programs, including a contribution that helped one local high school purchase 10 new concussion-resistant helmets.
Then, there is the scholarship: $10,000 awarded based on character to one of Drew’s college-bound classmates.
Drew’s family says it is committed to pursuing DI4D’s three goals in the same manner it has from the beginning and that it will continue to try to make a difference in people’s lives and to ensure that Drew’s legacy endures.
His name is Drew Hughes.
He was just a pure ray of sunlight.