On Sunday, August 12, Bob and Vicki Siefken gathered family and friends at their historic home in Dickinson for a barbeque. The occasion was to commemorate a fifth anniversary, but this anniversary was for something no family hopes to experience.
Five years earlier, Bob had climbed onto the roof of their Victorian home to finish some painting. His ladder slipped and he fell 30 feet to the ground below. In that instant, life forever changed for Bob and Vicki.
He was rushed from Dickinson to St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck with 14 broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a broken right hip, broken right femur, dislocated left elbow and a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Dickinson’s hospital didn’t have the trauma services to handle the level of his injuries. While being transported, Bob’s second lung collapsed (something few people live through). Bob was only given a 15 percent chance of surviving.
Many St. Alexius medical providers helped treat Bob and support Vicki during this time. “I was so touched by your entire staff… the professionalism, caring and kindness,” Vicki says.
She remembers St. Alexius critical care physician Dr. Javier Finkielman telling her Bob likely wouldn’t come out of his coma for weeks… if ever. “I went to St. Alexius’ chapel and then I went outside and sobbed,” Vicki says. A friend convinced her to leave the hospital grounds for a bit. Vicki didn’t want to leave Bob’s side, but her friend reminded her that Bob wasn’t likely to wake up for weeks and Vicki needed a break. Soon after, Vicki received a frantic call from Dr. Finkielman. “He said, ‘Where are you? Get back here. He woke up!’” Vicki retells.
After six weeks spent throughout “virtually every area of the hospital,” Bob got to go home. The physical recovery from the collapsed lungs and broken bones was one thing, but moving forward from the brain injury was quite another. This requires extensive professional evaluation, treatments and therapies.
Brain injuries are a major cause of death and disability worldwide. Most injuries occur from falls, vehicle accidents and violence. People typically don’t recover from a brain injury in the same way they recover from physical injuries. The residual effects of brain injuries are usually significant and permanent, and it is very hard to predict what the effects of each brain injury will be. Some lasting effects can include seizures, physical limitations, learning and cognitive limitations, mental and physical fatigue, and emotional, temperament and personality changes.
In Bob’s case, he made an amazing recovery despite the extent of his injuries. He regained almost full physical strength, full speech and holds a full-time job. Vicki has noted some personality changes in Bob, but she is very grateful that the lasting effects of his injury aren’t worse. Now Vicki lives by the motto, don’t tell God how big your storm is, tell the storm how big your God is. “Life is sure different, but I am thankful,” she says.
And, as for Bob, he has little memory of the accident but likes to joke about one lasting effect. His ladder is missing because his mother-in-law took it away.
St. Alexius Medical Center is hosting The Brain Train: Get on Board on Saturday, September 22 from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Bismarck Civic Center Exhibit Hall. The family-friendly event raises awareness and provides education about brain disorders and prevention of brain disease and injury. Activities include educational exhibits, train rides, on-stage entertainment, a Gateway to Science brain exhibit, food, inflatables and much more. Entrance to the event is free, but free-will donations collected will support a Neuroscience Resource Center at the Bismarck Public Library, with donations of $10 or more receiving a Brain Train t-shirt.
For more information about The Brain Train, click here.