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A day at the beach turns tragic as sand burial leads to coma

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Hoping their son can defy the odds, Bret and Janine Buchanan have put their resources, finances and most importantly, their faith into 17-year-old son, Ryan, who has yet to awake from a yearlong coma. Ryan was under the care of doctors and nurses in various hospitals before being transferred to his parents' house in February. According to CNN, his parents hope that a change of scenery will expedite their son’s recovery process from hypoxic brain injury, especially since he would be familiar with his surroundings despite his unconscious state.

Last June, while on a church retreat with his brother and about 50 other kids, Ryan and several friends finished digging an underground tunnel in the sand that was about 10 feet wide and 7 feet deep, when it suddenly collapsed. Ryan was trapped beneath the sand for nearly 20 minutes without an adequate amount of oxygen. It took Ryan’s brother, Jacob, and a few of his friends to finally dig him out, but the neurological damage to his brain was done.

Doctors and scientists have shown little optimism regarding the possibility of Ryan arising from his coma. Dr. Ricardo Komotar, brain surgeon and professor at Miami University, is not involved in Ryan’s case, but he discussed with CNN the difficulties that doctors have in diagnosing brain injuries. According to Komotar, it’s hard to collect any practical data that can be useful. He added that it’s a rare case for anyone to wake up from a coma after a long period of time.

Ryan’s parents, on the other hand, believe in miracles. They told CNN they’ve seen him smile and make eye contact. They take care of him round-the-clock, spend $40,000 a month on his home healthcare, and a friend performs physical therapy with him.

“I don’t think he’d want us to give up on him,” his mother said. “He’s a fighter.”

According to the Brain Injury Association of America, “Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of disability and death in children and adolescents in the U.S.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks age groups 0 to 4 and 15 to 19 as being at the greatest risk. Each year, 62,000 children sustain brain injuries requiring hospitalization due to auto accidents, falls, sports-related injuries, and abuse.