A Story of Incredible Recovery: Trauma Patient Recovers from 80-Foot Fall
June 13, 2006, started out normal enough for Bret Beherns, an 18-year-old college student working a summer job building cellphone towers. The self-described adrenaline junkie was finishing up work installing antennas in Rochester when one load of antennas he was hoisting became loose. Instinctively, he reached for the rope, which got caught around his arm. When the load hit the ground, Bret was catapulted 80 feet in the air.
Thirteen days later, he woke up from a medically induced coma at Memorial Medical Center.
“I have no memory of the accident,” said Bret, a Mahomet native. “At first, nobody knew if I was going to make it. After a long week, they told my parents that I was probably going to live.”
Amazingly, Bret landed on his feet. But the impact shattered his lower body and back. The aorta, the largest artery in the body, was torn next to his heart, the most serious and an often fatal injury. After multiple surgeries, including a 13-hour operation to rebuild his back and placing a stent in his heart, doctors made the difficult recommendation to amputate his left leg below the knee.
Bret and his family were at Memorial for nearly a month. His treatment was coordinated through the Southern Illinois Trauma Center at Memorial (SITC), a team made up of experienced SIU School of Medicine surgeons with support from Springfield Clinic, Orthopedic Center of Illinois and Memorial’s emergency teams. Together, the SITC provides care to an 18-county region for patients who experience traumatic injuries.
Following 18 months of rehabilitation at his hometown hospital, Bret regained the ability to walk with his prosthetic leg and has no long-term effects from the accident. He finished college and is living his dream as a sports reporter at WCIA in Champaign. Now 27, he is married with an 18-month-old daughter. Occasionally, he’ll receive a Facebook message from some of his old nurses, excited they saw him on TV.
“I’m so grateful for the team that took care of me,” Bret said. “But what stood out was how they took care of my family. Sometimes the care for them is just as important as the patient because they couldn’t do anything for me. My mom still stays in contact with a couple of the nurses. The care was just beyond what they could expect or imagine. When I woke up, my road to recovery started right then. I decided I was going to walk again, and I was still going to do everything I wanted to do in life. And I was only able to do that because of the incredible treatment.”
Bret’s outcome is a good example of how the trauma team can work together to make the impossible possible, said John Sutyak, MD, medical director of the SITC.
“For over 15 years, we’ve been bringing the best experts together 24/7 to provide a chance at life and a full recovery for people involved in major traumas,” he said. “Things don’t always turn out as well as they did for Bret, but it’s great, and a privilege, to be there when they do.”