Parents never doubt son's ability to recover from brain injury

February 28, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Rebecca Hartman helps Mason Ellsworth mix paints Wednesday in his Shepherdstown, W.Va., home. Mason is recovering from brain injuries suffered in a car accident several years ago. A collection of his artwork is being displayed and sold at Stone Soup Bistro on German Street in Shepherdstown for a month beginning Tuesday.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Mason Ellsworth’s story is one of pain, despair, unbearable hardship and the kind of love few people can even dream about.

Brian and Sylvia Ellsworth will never forget the news they got on the afternoon of July 23, 2008. Their son, Mason, then 18, was involved in an auto accident.

He was driving his parents’ SUV on Country Club Road between Flowing Springs Road and U.S. 340 north of Charles Town, W.Va., when he lost control on a sharp curve. The vehicle crossed into the oncoming lane and was rammed by a dump truck.

Mason was paralyzed and comatose from a traumatic brain injury. Doctors weren’t sure he would survive, an assessment his parents didn’t accept.

“A lot of people assumed the worst, but we never did,” Brian Ellsworth said. “We kept being encouraged by Mason and by the support we were getting from the community.”

Mason was flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center’s intensive care unit, where he stayed for six weeks. His parents were by his side the whole time.

He was transferred to the brain injury unit at Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, where he stayed for 11 months, again accompanied by his parents. They talked to him and read to him, and sang and played music for him to provide constant stimulation.

Friends from Shepherdstown, W.Va., also came to play music.

“We played music all the time. We even had a shaman come in once,” Sylvia Ellsworth said.

Mason was an accomplished musician. A bassoonist, he was selected first chair for three years in the all-state band and was lead guitarist for the Jefferson High School Jazz Band. He had a full scholarship to Shepherd University that fall, which he never used.

Mason was in a coma for more than five months, Sylvia Ellsworth said.

“He was in and out of the respiratory unit at Paoli Hospital (in Philadelphia) because of different infections,” Sylvia Ellsworth said. “He was always being knocked back on his rehabilitation.”

At one point, doctors at Bryn Mawr told the Ellsworths they could do no more for their son, so he came home on July 28, 2009, a year after the accident.

Mason then went to a rehabilitation hospital in Morgantown, W.Va.

“They were doing a lot of work there on helping the brain to reorganize and remap itself,” Brian Ellsworth said. “We were seeing improvement that we had not seen before.”

“We’d see improvement, then a slowdown. Sometimes, he’d go backward, but we stayed positive all the time,” Sylvia Ellsworth said.


The Ellsworths agreed to let doctors put their son in an experimental drug program.

“We don’t know if it helped or not,” Brian Ellsworth said.

Months of therapy, setbacks and emergency hospital visits finally paid off when Mason moved his thumb after being asked to do so by a therapist.

“That meant he was comprehending what was being said to him,” Sylvia Ellsworth said.

He moved his thumb five months after the accident.

“We’ll never forget that day,” Brian Ellsworth said.

Brian Ellsworth converted their garage into a specially equipped room for Mason. Though still paralyzed on his right side, he feeds himself, talks, laughs and sings.

“Country Roads,” made popular by John Denver, is his favorite song.

He has taken up painting, first with watercolors, now with acrylics.

His artwork will be on display and for sale at the Stone Soup Bistro on German Street in Shepherdstown for a month beginning Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m.

Fundraisers, which helped the couple pay living expenses while Mason was hospitalized, continue.

Donations may be made to the Ellsworth Family Fund at Jefferson Security Bank in Shepherdstown.

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