Community rallies around family

A Millsboro teen is recovering from a horrific car accident with the support of her community.

On March 26, just before midnight, 19-year-old Courtney Russum and her boyfriend were on their way home from a Philadelphia 76ers game. They were on Route 5, just a few minutes from Courtney’s home, and Courtney was asleep in the passenger seat when her boyfriend, who was driving, nodded off and crashed into a telephone pole.

The boyfriend had a broken arm, but Courtney’s injuries were much worse.

She was stuck in the mangled vehicle, unconscious, and first responders had to use the Jaws of Life to free her. Once she was transported to Beebe Healthcare, doctors found she had multiple brain bleeds. She also had broken her left tibia and fibula, both her lower and upper jaw and her first three thoracic vertebra. Her left foot had been degloved. She was missing multiple teeth.

Around 2 a.m. that morning, Courtney was flown to Christiana Hospital, where she was intubated as a precaution. She didn’t wake up for about a week.

A few days later, Courtney underwent surgery on her left leg. Her broken bones were fixed with pins and screws. Her broken jaw was next to be repaired, to the extent it could be, with two metal plates. Parts of her jaw were so shattered that she will need a “bone-build” in the future.

As far as doctors can tell, the brain bleeds are now stable. Courtney is not exhibiting symptoms that would indicate the brain injuries are worsening, but she is suffering the consequences of the initial damage.

“Her biggest bleed was on the left side of her brain,” said her mother, Tammy Russum. “So right now her right side is very weak. She was paralyzed on that side for a while, but she’s starting to come around.”

Courtney was moved April 24 to Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital in Bryn Mawr, Pa. There, just a few days ago, she was able to bear weight on her left leg for the first time. She has yet to be able to move her right hand.

In another recent milestone, Courtney’s jaw has healed to the point that her doctors are allowing her to eat soft foods. Prior to that, her diet was completely pureed. Her biggest pain complaint is her healing degloved foot, which was debrided in the hospital. Doctors are optimistic and hope skin grafts won’t be necessary.

Recovery has been steady, but it’s expected to be slow and unpredictable. Courtney hopes to be discharged in the next month or so, but that’s not guaranteed.

“Because she’s so young, she has a better prognosis,” Tammy said. “It’s a work in progress.”

Neurologically, Courtney appears to be very fortunate. Her memory is largely intact. She doesn’t remember the accident or some of the things she had learned in the prior school year, her first year studying to become a dental hygienist. Those memories may come back over time.

Courtney graduated from Sussex Technical High School in 2017 and started college courses in the fall. She was leading a very active life as a dance teacher at Cheryl’s Dance Alley in Millsboro, a competitive dance team member and a pageant queen. Most recently, she was crowned Miss Wilmington Outstanding Teen. Courtney and her mother attend Solid Ground Church in Lewes.

Courtney does have health insurance coverage under her father, but as with all policies, there are deductibles and caps. There are also Tammy’s expenses.

Tammy, a geriatric nurse, is living off saved vacation time and family medical leave assistance, both quickly running out. Bryn Mawr Rehab provides living quarters for certain family members of patients, but Tammy has to eat, and the bills back home have to be paid.

In the meantime, the medical bills grow and there are new expenses around every corner. For example, Courtney will eventually need major dental surgery to replace her missing teeth. The community surrounding Courtney’s life in Millsboro is well aware of the financial factors at play and is rallying to provide support.

“I didn’t realize we had that many friends, to be honest,” Tammy said. “We’re very fortunate in that a lot of people are helping.”

Many fundraisers are scheduled for the near future. To name a few: Saturday, May 26, a chicken barbecue fundraiser will take place next to Dairy Queen in Millsboro. On Thursday, May 31, a paint night will be held at JD Shucker’s in Georgetown. Sweatshirts and T-shirts bearing “#courtneystrong” are for sale on Facebook.

Perhaps most remarkable is the #Performstrong Variety Show, organized solely to benefit Courtney and featuring a long list of popular local entertainers, from singer Grace Otley to the McAleer School of Irish Dance. The show is organized by Friends of Little Miss Georgetown, since Courtney formerly held that title. The event is Sunday, May 20, at 2 p.m. at the Millsboro Fire Hall.

For now, Courtney is fairly happy with three to four hours of rehab daily, visits from friends and family, board games with mom and Chick Fil-a. Tammy is able to assist with her care, do medical paperwork and advocate for her best interests.

If you’d like to send Courtney and her mother well wishes, you can address mail to Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital Room 209, 414 Paoli Pike, Malvern PA 19355.

To contribute to the Russums financially, visit gofundme.com/pg5rdv-courtney-strong.

Finally, to keep up to date on Courtney’s recovery and stay informed about fundraisers, visit the Courtney Russum Rehab Updates Facebook page.