Out for a morning run, Erica Bratland paused to change the playlist on her iPod. As the music stopped, a distant noise caught her attention. “I don’t know why, but I knew something was wrong,” Bratland recalls. “I started running toward the sound.”
As she neared a busy intersection in her suburban St. Paul, Minn., neighborhood, she saw the mangled wreckage of her mother’s car. Her mother was hanging from the driver’s side door, and her 5-year-old son, Trip, lay on the ground. First responders from a nearby fire station had cut Trip from the wreckage and were working to revive him.
When the ambulance arrived, it rushed Trip to the nearest Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center, which Regions Hospital operates in partnership with Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. “We were afraid. We didn’t know what was going on,” says Bratland. “But from the minute we entered the hospital, we felt supported. The doctors and nurses made a really, really, really scary moment seem manageable.”
“All we wanted was to hear his voice.”
In a coma, Trip wasn’t breathing on his own and had multiple lacerations, including a hole in his cheek. Doctors placed him on a ventilator and moved him to Gillette’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).
“Trip was stable but didn’t wake up,” Bratland recalls. “All we wanted was to hear his voice and see him open his eyes.”
When Trip’s lung function didn’t improve, Gillette’s surgical team performed exploratory surgery to look for internal damage. They found and repaired a small tear in his intestine. The surgery relieved pressure on his lungs, and within days Trip was breathing on his own without the ventilator.
“That was cause for celebration,” says Bratland, “but it was also a day when we had to swallow some very hard truths.” An MRI revealed that Trip had sustained a traumatic brain injury. “No one could tell us for sure what that would mean for him,” says his father, David Bratland, a golf course manager. “Trip loves to play golf. We didn’t know if he’d ever speak or walk again, much less swing a golf club.”
Trip’s Recovery Begins at the Region’s Top Rehab Center
Fortunately for the Bratlands, Gillette offers the region’s top rehabilitation center for children and teens and the nation's largest group of board-certified pediatric rehabilitation medicine physicians. Twelve days after the crash, Trip was strong enough to move from the PICU to the inpatient rehabilitation unit, where he began the hard work of recovery.
Gillette’s intensive program includes daily sessions with physical, occupational and speech therapists. “We entered the unit in May not knowing if Trip would ever walk again,” says Erica Bratland. “I didn’t think there was any possibility he would be able to start kindergarten in September.”
But Trip surprised everyone. “His recovery happened fast,” his mother says. “It felt like a miracle.”
Less than a month after the crash, Trip went home—walking and talking on his own. Except for a scar on his cheek, he had no visible signs of the near-fatal crash.
Trip continued to receive outpatient physical therapy at Gillette’s St. Paul Clinic for three months. “We don’t know if there will be long-lasting effects of the brain injury,” says Bratland. “But for now, we’re grateful for every day. Gillette made the difference between a child heading off to kindergarten and a family facing a holiday without that child. We’re acutely aware that, if we hadn’t gone to Gillette, our outcome would have been very different.”