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“I’m not sure anybody expected it to turn out this good”
Holly Hartell poses with her daughter Sarah Marie and son JP

“I’m not sure anybody expected it to turn out this good”

By Jessica Pickens on October 10, 2018

Life would never be the same for the Hartell family after March 15, 2015.

On a warm day, the Hartells took their new personal watercraft out on Lake Bowen in Spartanburg — Holly and her daughter Sarah Marie on one vehicle and her husband Jim and son J.P. on the other.

Their time on the lake ended when Jim and J.P.'s vehicle hit a dock. Jim was killed and J.P. was airlifted to Spartanburg Medical Center's Level I Trauma Center.

Five weeks in hospitals

J.P. suffered a traumatic brain injury and swelling of the brain. The trauma team immediately performed a craniectomy, where part of the skull is removed to relieve pressure on the brain. J.P. had to wear a helmet for several weeks to help with his recovery.

For two weeks after the accident, J.P. was in a coma. After he woke up, he was moved to the Spartanburg Medical Center Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, or PICU, where he stayed for two weeks.

“The night that we arrived in the PICU, the nurses took care of me. I needed a lot of care,” she said. “My husband was gone and I had a child that I didn't know if he was going to make it. I was suddenly a single parent.”

Holly remembers how each nurse helped her and J.P. through a traumatic time.

“The nurses in the PICU are amazing. The night that I arrived, Ysabel stayed with me every second and carried me through that night — the worst night of my life,” Holly said. “Spoone (Veronica Oakes, RN) told me that J.P.'s light would shine bright and I held on to that for the entire stay.”

Things started to feel normal again for Holly when J.P.'s feeding tube was taken out and his sister was able to visit him.

“I remember we got to wheel him outside one night. We had beautiful weather and it was about two and a half weeks after we had been at the hospital,” she said. “He was wearing his helmet and he was in a wheelchair but it was such a big deal to just go outside in the air, something that you take for granted.”

J.P. was then taken to Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte for rehab, where he stayed for two weeks. Heather, a nurse in the Spartanburg Regional PICU, rode in the ambulance to Charlotte with the family because Holly didn't want to go alone.

J.P. then returned to Spartanburg Medical Center's Pediatric Rehab for outpatient rehabilitation.

“He learned to talk, eat, walk, everything,” Holly said.

J.P. doesn't remember anything about that day on the lake or the accident. He only remembers leaving Spartanburg Medical Center to go to Charlotte. He also remembers his rehabilitation.

“It was tedious because I couldn't run or jump,” he said.

“He can do everything”

It has been four years since J.P.'s traumatic injury and his care at Spartanburg Medical Center. But Holly still keeps in touch with his care team and looks forward to seeing others at the NICU/PICU reunion on October 13, held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Spartanburg Regional Child Development Center.

“The team of nurses and doctors that carried me through that,” Holly said. “I'm still in touch with several of those folks and I feel like they were a huge part of this journey for us and were with me every step of the way.”

J.P. was 10 when he was in the accident and is now 14 and in high school. Their family dynamic has changed, but J.P.'s recovery has been tremendous.

“He is so grown up now and so tall,” Holly said. “I'm not sure anybody expected it to turn out this good. That his outlook would be this positive. He can do everything and is a great student. He can walk and run and will be able to drive soon.”

Because of his experiences with his injury and his rehabilitation at Spartanburg Medical Center, J.P. already has a career path in mind.

“I want to be a physical therapist, I think probably a lot because of going through this,” J.P. said.

“There is no normal, we've learned that along the way, that there is no such thing as normal,” Holly said. “All of us are stronger now as a result of what happen because we have been to a really rotten place and we came out on the other side of it.”

Join other families like the Hartells at the NICU/PICU Reunion on Saturday, Oct. 13. Wear your favorite superhero costume and celebrate achievements at the Child Development Center, located at 1001 North Pine Street, Spartanburg, SC 29303. 

For more information, call 864-560-6297 or visit