Payne’s Story: Teenager Survives Traumatic Brain Injury

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When a child has an accident, it’s a normal reaction for parents to second-guess the situation, trying to think of ways they could have changed the outcome. For Jenness and Mark Sigman, those questions still plague their thoughts as they support son Payne through his recovery from a car accident.

Unlike many teenagers who drive too fast or try to text on the road, Payne was doing everything right. On his way to church one January Sunday morning, he was wearing his seatbelt and driving at a slow speed when the icy roads caused his car to slide off the road, hitting a parked car. The airbag deployed, and Payne’s head hit the driver’s side window, causing a traumatic brain injury.

When Jenness and Mark arrived at Miami Valley Hospital’s Level I Trauma Center, they were shocked to see their son hooked up to many machines. For Jenness, the sight of his letter jacket, covered with blood, cut into pieces and lying in a bag on the floor was gut-wrenching. Even though, they knew their son was in the right place.

“Living in Dayton our whole lives, we knew this was a high-level trauma center. …This is the best in town,” Mark said. Having a sense of trust in the physicians and staff made their difficult situation easier.

Initially, trauma surgeon John Bini, Lt. Col., USAF, MD, FACS, was concerned about Payne’s prognosis due to the severity of his brain injury. After he began treating him, he realized Payne’s age, good health, and strong psychological state before the accident made him a perfect candidate for aggressive treatment. “I thought to myself, if someone is going to have a good outcome, it would be this kid,” Dr. Bini said. 

Making a treatment plan with Payne’s parents, Dr. Bini and the care team decided to put Payne into a medically-induced coma to reduce brain swelling and protect the healthy areas of his brain. Once he was stable, Payne was gradually removed from the medication.

Love From Family Helps Recovery

“Over a period of days and weeks, he started to wake up and he started to move things and he started to interact with the environment around him,” Dr. Bini said.

It was at that point Jenness and Mark knew their son would survive. Now they had to face his recovery – what condition would be in? Would he ever regain the mental abilities and physical functionality he had before the accident? Not long after he regained consciousness, Payne was moving his hands, a feat that led Dr. Bini to believe he would make a strong recovery.

“I saw his scan. I can’t believe he’s doing this, this quick,” he said.

Payne continues to improve, with unfailing family support. While their son hasn’t complained once during his recovery, Mark said he still asks himself, “Why did I let him drive that day? Why didn’t we have a better car for him? Why didn’t we do this or that?”

Payne’s focus is on the future — he said he’s looking forward to college where he’d like to study engineering and play soccer. 

Dr. Bini marvels at the entire experience. He sees Payne as an extraordinary example of healing and recovery, much of which Dr. Bini credits to the love of his family.

“This kid was surrounded by people who loved him,” he said. “Somewhere deep down inside, this kid knew that he needed to survive. Not just for himself, but for the people who loved him, and I think that makes all the difference in the world.”

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