The last thing Benjamin Metzger, 16, remembers is texting his girlfriend.
A quick gas station snack run turned into a two-and-a-half-week hospital stay when the truck Benjamin was riding in flipped on a country road in Richland, Missouri, as the driver swerved to avoid a deer in the road. The truck overturned and struck a tree. Luckily, members of Benjamin's family lived along the same road and were on the scene almost immediately.
"Our family is full of health care professionals," Benjamin's mother, Kathryn Metzger, said. "They got him out of the vehicle, and his aunt tried to get him as stable as she could."
Seeing the state of her nephew, including pale gray skin and labored breathing, his aunt called 911 and told them that he would need to be flown to University Hospital in Columbia. An ambulance transported Benjamin to a nearby field where the Staff for Life Helicopter Service airlifted him to MU Health Care's Frank L. Mitchell Jr., MD, Trauma Center.
Upon arrival, Benjamin was intubated and immediately taken into the operating room. The accident had left him with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He suffered from loss of consciousness and brain bleeding, a collapsed lung, lacerated liver, traumatic shock and a lacerated spleen requiring removal. Benjamin was in a coma for more than a week.
"I've seen everything from the rural clinics to the big fancy hospitals, and this was one of the best experiences I've had," Kathryn said. "Not just because of the high-tech options and excellent critical care, but because of the people in the unit and the way they treated us. His nurses didn't just care for him, they cared for us, too."
Family, friends and staff were amazed at how quickly Benjamin began getting back to normal. The curly haired teen was adapting to his new set of circumstances in the best way possible. Nurses and doctors encouraged Kathryn to let him try things he was used to, like texting his girlfriend or listening to rock music. Walking down the ICU hallway to find nurse Kelly Tanzey playing air guitar to Blue Oyster Cult with Benjamin was just another part of the healing process.
Since the accident, Benjamin has focused on being a teenager again. Having experienced a TBI, attention and concentration take intense effort. Benjamin spends hours working with speech and occupational therapists on strategies to stay organized and focused at school. But the recovery doesn't stop there. Benjamin, an avid skateboarder, is relearning all his skateboard basics, including his balance and rolling in a straight line.
"Of course you'd never wish this on anyone," Kathryn said. "But if you had to go through this, this would be the place to do it. The doctors and nurses comforted us, encouraged us, gave us advice and truly involved us as part of his care team. They were, and continue to be, our biggest cheerleaders."