After surviving a severe TBI, a patient returns 16 years later to thank the team members who saved her life
A heartwarming reunion took place earlier this month when a former patient returned to Hennepin Healthcare to thank those who cared for her 16 years ago.
Erin (Duffy) Carlson was 23 years old when she was hit by another vehicle while riding in a car on July 20, 2007. Erin was quickly brought to Hennepin Healthcare in an ambulance.
After being treated in the ED, Erin was admitted to the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU). On August 1, 2007 while she was recovering, the 35W bridge collapsed—bringing at least 23 injured patients to our doors for care. As one of the younger SICU patients, Erin was transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) to allow more space for patients injured in the bridge collapse.
Erin suffered a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) with a Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) of 4 on arrival. Patients with TBIs this severe have a 30-40% chance of survival, and those who do survive are rarely expected to return to their pre-injury level of functioning. It was unclear if she’d ever walk again. Erin spent just under one month in acute care, then two weeks at Knapp Rehab before being discharged home.
Sixteen years later, Erin walked back into Hennepin Healthcare to thank the team who saved her life.
This past September, Erin sent a letter to the Pediatric ICU. “I’m an inpatient dietician and, like you, don’t know what happens to a lot of my patients when they’re discharged,” said Erin in her letter. “I think about the people who saved my life often and wanted to reach out to see if anyone still worked there.”
In fact, several still did. PICU Medical Director Ashley Bjorklund, MD, and TBI Center Coordinator Kary Briner, MSW, LICSW arranged a meeting between Erin and PICU nurses Amy Forchas, RN, and Shayna Hamiel, RN, who were only two years into their nursing careers when they cared for Erin. Shayna no longer works at Hennepin Healthcare but returned especially for Erin’s visit. Additionally, Andrew Kiragu, MD, Pediatric Critical Care, and Walt Galicich, MD, Neurosurgery, stopped by.
There were tears of joy from Erin as she hugged each of the people that led to her remarkable recovery. “I never expected a response back — I thought I’d just send it out and see what happened,” said Erin during the emotional visit. She was accompanied by her husband Russell, daughter Lucy, and son Channing.
Erin told the team that only a year after her accident, she completed her first marathon. She also shared some of the memories she had during her hospitalization, and the team shared theirs.
Erin recalled how her experience with her TBI came full circle five years ago when her husband, who has since recovered, had a ruptured brain aneurysm. During his recovery, she drew from the knowledge of her own hospitalization – now as a loved one of a TBI patient. Erin also shared with a laugh that during Russel’s recovery, her children asked her when they were going to get their own brain injuries.
Erin and her family’s visit to Hennepin Healthcare concluded with a tour of the SICU, PICU, and Knapp. In Knapp, she reunited with her physical therapist, Casey Byron, BS, MPT. Casey was the one who taught Erin how to run again, and they both remembered the tremendous amount of work and effort that Erin put in to make that happen.
So often patient-facing team members spend days, weeks, or even months with a patient. They get to know them and truly care about their recovery but never hear from the patient after they leave. In the case of Erin Carlson, these caregivers were given the rare opportunity to see the happy ending created by their lifesaving care.
Main photo above: Walt Galicich, MD, Kary Briner, TBI Center Coordinator, Andrew Kiragu, MD, Erin with her two children Lucy and Channing, Shayna Hamiel, RN, Amy Forchas, RN, Ashley Bjorklund, MD, Russel Carlson