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Told he’d never walk or talk again, brain injury patient lives full life

by Kate Snider

“Ten percent of life is what happens to you, the other 90 percent is how you react to what happens,” said Travis Zinger as he recalled what he learned during rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed.

On a snowy day in December 1993, Travis, then 13 years old, and some friends were going to see the movie Mrs. Doubtfire. His friend’s grandfather was driving, hit a snow squall and the car was broad-sided by another driver.

Because of the white-out conditions, Travis couldn’t be flown to Spectrum Health’s Butterworth campus. The ambulance had to stop on the way to Spectrum to revive him.

Travis doesn’t remember much from the accident; he suffered a traumatic brain injury and spent three weeks at Spectrum Health in a coma. After that he transferred to MFB.

Travis’s family was told there wasn’t much to hope for their son, and he would most likely never walk or talk again. Travis’s parents, Marilyn and Jim, made sure there was a constant, positive community of people around.

Marilyn kept a journal of his recovery. “There’s everything in there: lipstick marks, coffee and tear stains, and memories for Travis to see later.”

Marilyn wrote in Travis’s journal, “We went for a tour of MFB. They’re hoping to move you there tomorrow, if you have a good night. At MFB, they’ll first work on getting you to wake up, then they’ll work on rehabilitation — walking, talking, etc … It’s a really great place with great people. They’re all really nice.”

After those three weeks in a coma, Travis was mid transfer to MFB in an ambulance when he opened one eye. At MFB he awoke fully and began his rehabilitation.

Travis’s rehabilitation was tough given the extent of his injury.

“Listen to whatever advice your doctors give you,” Travis said. “No matter how hard they seem to be, they know what they’re talking about.”

As the doctors told Travis and his family, no two brain injuries are the same; doctors can’t predict what will happen. Travis and his family had to hang in there and never give up hope.

Travis also suffered from depression and anxiety after his accident. He said, “As much as I hate to admit it, attitude is basically everything. You can’t control what happens in life; but you can control how you react to it.”

Travis met with a Mary Free Bed neuropsychologist to help him address the anxiety he felt while recovering and to learn to cope with it in the future.

Now, because of the help, perseverance, and attitude of the MFB staff, Travis not only walks and talks, but has a job, is married and has a son.

Travis still attends church with the driver from his accident and maintains a close relationship with him. He also keeps in touch with some of the Mary Free Bed staff, some of whom attended his wedding. Travis enjoys mountain biking (with a helmet, of course!), hunting, and bowling.

As a result of his brain injury, Travis suffers from short-term memory loss. Yet, he lives a very full life — especially for someone who wasn’t supposed to walk or talk again.

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