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A Head Above the Rest

A Head Above the Rest

An innocent scooter ride changed Hans’ life in an instant. But the care he received at Kaweah Health gave him another chance to enjoy the ride of life.

It was winter 2019, four days after Christmas, and Hans Gilkey was out enjoying a ride on a brand new electric scooter. By his side on a scooter of her own was his long-time girlfriend, Kaylyn Hofstee. The air was crisp but the couple was feeling merry and full of life. As they zoomed down the road, Hans gained speed and scooted ahead. Moments later, the unimaginable happened. Hans fell, struck his head, and was immediately knocked unconscious. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Kaylyn didn’t know how serious his fall was until she reached Hans and noticed he wasn’t breathing. A registered nurse working on the Kaweah Health cardiac unit at the time, Kaylyn quickly sprang into action to save Hans’ life.

“My nurse instincts just kicked in and I began CPR,” Kaylyn said. “Thank God I was trained to do that and knew how to handle the situation. I just acted. Thirty seconds to a minute later, I got a pulse and Hans started breathing.”

The fun joyride turned into an urgent ambulance ride to Kaweah Health’s emergency department. Upon arrival, the medical team rushed Hans to the operating room and immediately inserted a bolt—a small, hollow device placed through the skull into the space just between the skull and the brain—to monitor his intracranial pressure. Hans had suffered a traumatic head injury and the swelling in his brain was threatening his life. After a few agonizing hours of waiting, Kaylyn and Hans’ family were told he was in stable but extremely critical condition and would be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). It would be a full month before Hans would ever regain consciousness.

“His days in the ICU were tough. There were days when we couldn’t even enter his room and could only look at him through a window,” remembers Kaylyn. “As a nurse working for the hospital, I knew the kind of care we provided patients but it’s a lot different to be on the other side. It was hard but we were blessed with the best nurses in the ICU who kept us in the loop and constantly relayed everything we needed to know to us. They went above and beyond to give us the best experience we could have.”

Memories from those early, terrifying days after Hans’ accident still remain, but the care and attention he received from the Kaweah Health medical team are what the family finds truly unforgettable—most especially the efforts of Dr. Charles Liu, a board-certified, Kaweah Health-affiliated neurosurgeon and professor of Clinical Neurological Surgery at USC (University of Southern California) Keck School of Medicine.

“Even though I worked at Kaweah Health, I had never met Dr. Liu or known of the neurosciences team we have to offer here. I didn’t work on that unit,” said Kaylyn. “Now I know that Kaweah Health has the neurosurgery team from USC here and there is always a neurosurgeon to provide care to our community. Dr. Liu was the best doctor Hans could have.”

Kaylyn continued. “We were asked many times why we weren’t transferring Hans out to receive care somewhere else, but we truthfully felt like we were getting the best care possible. The way Dr. Liu approached the situation, the way he talked to us and wouldn’t leave a detail out in the day-to-day reports, helped us know everything going on with Hans’ care. For the medical team to take the time to give us the information we needed on the journey is something we can never be grateful enough for.”

And Hans would need a world-class team to survive. After trying various interventions to keep the swelling in Hans’ brain down, including placing a drain in his skull, Dr. Liu decided it was time to perform a craniectomy, a type of neurosurgery done to remove a portion of the skull in order to relieve pressure on the brain caused by swelling. The skull is left open until the pressure goes down, at which point the opening is then closed. “That was kind of the last effort to save Hans’ life,” Kaylyn stated. “Dr. Liu performed the surgery and saved his life that day.”

The critical surgery had indeed been life-saving, but Hans still had a long road to recovery ahead of him. A journey Dr. Liu is familiar with after years of experience, “People come into the emergency room, I operate on them and save their lives, but what happens afterward is vital and just as important.”

All in all, Hans spent just over a month in a medically-induced coma in the ICU. He was discharged from the hospital on January 31, 2020 with a breathing tube, feeding tube, and part of his skull removed—and spent the next six weeks recovering in an inpatient rehabilitation facility in northern California. To regain his strength and independence, Hans would need physical, occupational, and speech therapy to relearn the basic skills we take for granted, including how to eat, sit, walk, and talk. But Hans’ determination to make a full recovery was evident from the start. After just one week in the rehabilitation facility, he learned to walk again.

Hans returned home in the spring of 2020 and began outpatient therapy treatment at the Kaweah Health Rehabilitation Hospital in Visalia. With the help of his physical therapist, Courtney Williams, he gained more advanced mobility like jumping rope and skipping. Occupational therapy also played a huge role in Hans’ recovery. This type of therapy helps individuals regain basic activities of daily living and increases their independent living skills, such as eating, grooming, bathing, and dressing.

Kaylyn still marvels at the care Hans was provided. “The care he received through the outpatient therapy program, and the way his occupational therapist, Monica Bolton, invested in him and the relationship they formed was pretty special. She went above and beyond for him,” said Kaylyn. “Their relationship was very special and we are so thankful to have received such amazing care. Everyone at Kaweah Health became our family. They treated us better than we deserved.”

Dr. Liu is just as fond of Hans, Kaylyn, and their families. “It is an absolute pleasure to have played a small role in Hans’ recovery. Actually meeting him and seeing that he is okay is indeed special. I was delighted to take care of him. We got him through some extraordinary and very dark moments. Hans has made a terrific recovery.”

Now Hans is back to doing activities he loves like playing golf, woodworking, and painting. Although the accident left him nonverbal for three months, the brain injury miraculously did not damage Hans’ cognitive skills, so he is still able to do tasks such as think, read, learn, remember, reason, and pay attention the same as he did prior to the accident. Recovering his ability to speak has been a slower process than regaining his physical strength and basic living skills, but speech therapy is helping Hans improve his speaking abilities. It is just a matter of time and practice until Hans is completely verbal again.

December 2021 marked two years since Hans’ accident, but the couple has been focused on another very special date—their wedding day, on January 22, 2022. Dr. Liu was, of course, invited.

Kaylyn is thankful for the expert care and the journey ahead. “There were days when I sat next to Hans’ bed and I prayed that we had more life to live and this wasn’t the end of our journey. God knew it wasn’t, and in January, we get to start our official journey as ‘Mr. and Mrs.’”

Hans wholeheartedly agrees. “I’m thankful to be alive. Thank you, Kaweah Health, for helping me.”



The Kaweah Health Neurosciences Center has nine board-certified neurosurgeons providing world-class care to patients in Central California. We are proud to partner with neurosurgeons and professors of neurosurgery at the USC, Keck School of Medicine to offer neurosurgery and neurospine services in Visalia, treating patients with severe head injuries and neurosurgical conditions around the clock and close to home. For more information on our Neurosciences Center, visit