Skull fracture causes frightening TBI – but nothing scary about seamless care
As a nurse at a local hospital, Jeanne Leach has worked with families caring for loved ones with a health emergency. On a Friday night in October, while leaving their daughter’s house, her husband, Jim, walked down the front steps, tripped over a pumpkin, and fell and hit the corner of a step and was knocked unconscious.
“He lost his footing and struck his head so hard that he was bleeding through every orifice in his head,” she recalls. “There was blood everywhere. It was awful.”
After calling 911, their son-in-law ran next door to get their neighbor, Dr. Stephen Dunlop, who happens to be an emergency physician at Hennepin Healthcare.
“My son-in-law, Nicholas, ran to Steve’s house. He came right away and helped me stabilize Jim. He accompanied Jim in the ambulance and stayed with him the entire time – including when we arrived at the hospital. And then Dr. Dunlop stayed with us in the emergency department until 2 a.m.”
According to Dr. Dunlop, “It was completely dark, but I could see the blood coming from his head and ear as I opened Jim’s airway, while Jeanne was perfectly holding Jim’s cervical spine. I knew his persistent poor exam along with the location of his injury meant he had a catastrophic injury. I thought he was done.”
Dr. Dunlop continues, “While waiting for the ambulance, I kept my ear to Jim’s mouth, listening helplessly to each breath. I jumped in the back of the ambulance to assist the Hennepin Paramedic Team during transport. Jim had massive amounts of vomit that was obstructing his airway, IV lines were established, medication given and I called ahead directly to the emergency physicians in the stabilization room letting them know how to prepare for our arrival all while swaying back and forth at high speeds down the highway.”
That night, Jim underwent surgery to have a craniotomy to relieve the extensive bleeding. Even after surgery, the news was grim. Jim barely escaped death, and the family was told that upon recovering, he would probably need someone to care for him at all times for the rest of his life. Jeanne remembers, “Jim was in the surgical ICU for three weeks. He had a trach and a feeding tube.” Jeanne advocated for Jim and did not give up on him. After nearly a month, Jim was able to be extubated and had a tracheostomy and feeding tube before he graduated to step down ICU and then to Knapp Rehabilitation. This is when Jeanne decided that “the best” was worth the extra cost. Jim was able to make tremendous progress and was able to be discharged in early December.
“The ICU nurses /team to the Hyperbaric Chamber and ‘dove’ with him 10 different times. The chamber is in a different building, so they had to navigate Jim – a very critical patient – and they did this with such grace and confidence”, explained Jeanne.
“I want to acknowledge the ICU, Knapp Rehab, the step-down ICU, and the neurosurgeons,” said Jeanne. “Everyone was so good. They were the reasons he was discharged so soon. Knapp Rehab was excellent. Those nurses and therapists invested in Jim’s care and made it as good as it could have been.”
Jim’s family also thanks and recognizes Drs. Bergman, Galicich and Tonkin.
Entering the Traumatic Brain Injury Outpatient Program, therapy was extensive at first and in May he graduated from physical therapy. Jim continues to see speech and occupational therapy. Jim’s team of therapists were outstanding! Dave Odenbach, his physical therapist, Abby Sorenson, his speech-language pathologist, and Nicole St. John and Jeremy Parks, his occupational therapists, all treated Jim and Jeanne as if they were their own family and always encouraged and believed in him. With the incredible support of their 3 daughters and their families, Jeanne was able to return to her NICU leadership role at another hospital. Their daughters and son-in-laws went above and beyond and were able to be with Jim, and bring him to therapies on the days that Jeanne worked. Jim has made great progress and is now able to stay home independently for longer periods.
“Having all of the therapies and clinics together in the Clinic & Specialty Center has been a lifesaver. You guys made it so smooth, seamless,” Jeanne said. “This is not how it’s done at other hospitals. And everyone is just so kind.”
Jim is also part of the HOBIT (Hyperbaric Oxygen Brain Injury Treatment) trial, which studies how the injured brain uses hyperbaric (pure) oxygen in a pressurized environment. Hennepin Healthcare, the lead site, is one of twelve hospitals in the nation doing this research.
Jim has lost hearing in his left ear, and he is working on his left side neglect which means he can sometimes be unaware of activity on the left side, but with therapy that is getting better. He’s even back to grilling, but Jim’s real goal is to get back on his John Deere tractor.
Jeanne says, “At the rate he’s going, I don’t doubt he’ll be back on that tractor managing the lawn again soon. This entire journey has been a miracle. He’s doing amazing thanks to his care team at Hennepin Healthcare. And we’ll all be happy to see him doing those things he enjoys again.
I want to express how each and every person I came in contact with Jim’s care went above and beyond and do this with such conviction and compassion. I am overwhelmed by their kindness to both Jim and myself.”
As Jim continues to recover and make progress, both Jeanne and Jim want to acknowledge the outstanding care Jim was given at Hennepin Healthcare. “We are overwhelmed and so very grateful for the kindness, compassion and excellent care that Jim was given. The coordination of care has been seamless and the people we met along the way are truly committed to giving exceptional care. Hennepin Healthcare’s Traumatic Brain Injury Program is outstanding, and we feel has made it possible for Jim to have the best outcome he could possibly have. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!”