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Tristan Ballinger returns home

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By Amanda Manning

For the first time in their careers, two Oldham County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) employees had the opportunity to take a patient home instead of taking them to the hospital.

“Honestly, I’ve been doing this almost 28 years and bringing him home was probably the crowning moment of my career,” Oldham County EMS employee John Lukar said. “Nothing short of a miracle as far as I’m concerned.”

On Nov 16. Lukar responded to the scene where Tristan Ballinger was injured in a freak accident. Lukar and his partner, Chad Buechele, both have children Ballinger’s age. 

At the time of the call, Buechele was being promoted from captain to major, so he did not get on the same ambulance as Lukar. Moments later, he left that promotion ceremony to also respond to the scene. 

“It was really pretty emotional because you can picture it being your own child there and just imaging what that family is about to go through,” Lukar said. “Imagining what it’s like to get a call that something has happened to your child and all of the uncertainty that comes along with that.”

Ballinger was taken to University of Louisville hospital that day where he underwent multiple surgeries. On Dec. 7, he was moved to Frazier Rehab Institute to begin their EMERGE program, which is designed to provide comprehensive care for patients with severe traumatic brain injury who are at low levels of consciousness. On Dec. 28, one day before his 16th birthday, Ballinger emerged from his coma. 

On Feb. 8., the pair had the chance to bring Ballinger back home from Frazier Rehab Institute. “We were just ecstatic that we had that privilege to pick him up and bring him back home,” Buechele said.

Now that Ballinger has completed the inpatient part of his recovery at Frazier Rehab Institute, he will continue outpatient therapy at Frazier three times a week.  Thanks in part to the money raised by the community, Ballinger will also be able to be cared for at home by caregivers. 

In addition to that therapy, the Ballinger family plans to add additional therapies to help their son progress. “We’re going to work with him even outside of the outpatient services and probably fund some of our own physical therapy out of pocket,” Tristan’s mom, Nicole Ballinger explained. “The first six months is so critical for him to regain as much as he can.”

Over the past few months, the Oldham County High School sophomore has progressed tremendously physically, cognitively and through his speech. “When he got there, he was a two. He was in a coma, he was barely even what they would consider localized. You know when somebody pinches you, you’d react, he wasn’t even doing that,” Mrs Ballinger said, referring to the scale from one to ten that the doctors use to rate patients. “Right before he was released, he was considered a six. The speech therapist said she would consider some aspects of a seven.”

Some of the doctors even consider Ballinger’s progress to be a miracle. “One of the doctors that was in the emergency room with him the very first night stopped by right before we left. He walked out of the room in tears, and he looked at me and he said, ‘It’s truly a miracle,’” Mrs. Ballinger said. “Now for a doctor to tell you that, there’s something to be said for that.”

The Ballinger family hopes that Tristan will be able to walk with his Oldham County High School wrestling team in the parade on Feb. 16. 

Over the last few months, the Ballinger family has received an outpouring of community support ranging from donations, to students at each local high school creating prayer circles, to community fundraisers, t-shirt sales and even construction companies helping out. 

In early January, when the family thought they were going to have to bring Ballinger home early after their insurance company denied additional therapy, Eric McGuire from Superior Flatwork and Jeremy Esposito from Esposito Construction stepped in to build the family a ramp outside their house.

“That week was rainy and cold, I have no idea how they got that done. It was just amazing how they pulled that together,” Mrs. Ballinger said.

When asked what the community can do to continue to support the family, the Ballinger’s say to pray. 

“The prayers are so important. We really appreciate it. We feel it. Tristan feels it,” Mrs. Ballinger said.  “With all the diagnoses that we’ve gotten from the doctors, the only thing that’s really lifted our hearts was the prayers and the support from the community.”

Ballinger has another surgery scheduled at University of Louisville Hospital soon. To help the Ballinger family financially through Tristan’s recovery and medical expenses, donate at gofundme.com/HealingforTristanBallinger.

“Honestly, I’ve been doing this almost 28 years and bringing him home was probably the crowning moment of my career,” Oldham County EMS employee John Lukar said. “Nothing short of a miracle as far as I’m concerned.”

On Nov 16. Lukar responded to the scene where Tristan Ballinger was injured in a freak accident. Lukar and his partner, Chad Buechele, both have children Ballinger’s age. 

At the time of the call, Buechele was being promoted from captain to major, so he did not get on the same ambulance as Lukar. Moments later, he left that promotion ceremony to also respond to the scene. 

“It was really pretty emotional because you can picture it being your own child there and just imaging what that family is about to go through,” Lukar said. “Imagining what it’s like to get a call that something has happened to your child and all of the uncertainty that comes along with that.”

Ballinger was taken to University of Louisville hospital that day where he underwent multiple surgeries. On Dec. 7, he was moved to Frazier Rehab Institute to begin their EMERGE program, which is designed to provide comprehensive care for patients with severe traumatic brain injury who are at low levels of consciousness. On Dec. 28, one day before his 16th birthday, Ballinger emerged from his coma. 

On Feb. 8., the pair had the chance to bring Ballinger back home from Frazier Rehab Institute. “We were just ecstatic that we had that privilege to pick him up and bring him back home,” Buechele said.

Now that Ballinger has completed the inpatient part of his recovery at Frazier Rehab Institute, he will continue outpatient therapy at Frazier three times a week.  Thanks in part to the money raised by the community, Ballinger will also be able to be cared for at home by caregivers. 

In addition to that therapy, the Ballinger family plans to add additional therapies to help their son progress. “We’re going to work with him even outside of the outpatient services and probably fund some of our own physical therapy out of pocket,” Tristan’s mom, Nicole Ballinger explained. “The first six months is so critical for him to regain as much as he can.”

Over the past few months, the Oldham County High School sophomore has progressed tremendously physically, cognitively and through his speech. “When he got there, he was a two. He was in a coma, he was barely even what they would consider localized. You know when somebody pinches you, you’d react, he wasn’t even doing that,” Mrs Ballinger said, referring to the scale from one to ten that the doctors use to rate patients. “Right before he was released, he was considered a six. The speech therapist said she would consider some aspects of a seven.”

Some of the doctors even consider Ballinger’s progress to be a miracle. “One of the doctors that was in the emergency room with him the very first night stopped by right before we left. He walked out of the room in tears, and he looked at me and he said, ‘It’s truly a miracle,’” Mrs. Ballinger said. “Now for a doctor to tell you that, there’s something to be said for that.”

The Ballinger family hopes that Tristan will be able to walk with his Oldham County High School wrestling team in the parade on Feb. 16. 

Over the last few months, the Ballinger family has received an outpouring of community support ranging from donations, to students at each local high school creating prayer circles, to community fundraisers, t-shirt sales and even construction companies helping out. 

In early January, when the family thought they were going to have to bring Ballinger home early after their insurance company denied additional therapy, Eric McGuire from Superior Flatwork and Jeremy Esposito from Esposito Construction stepped in to build the family a ramp outside their house.

“That week was rainy and cold, I have no idea how they got that done. It was just amazing how they pulled that together,” Mrs. Ballinger said.

When asked what the community can do to continue to support the family, the Ballinger’s say to pray. 

“The prayers are so important. We really appreciate it. We feel it. Tristan feels it,” Mrs. Ballinger said.  “With all the diagnoses that we’ve gotten from the doctors, the only thing that’s really lifted our hearts was the prayers and the support from the community.”

Ballinger has another surgery scheduled at University of Louisville Hospital soon. To help the Ballinger family financially through Tristan’s recovery and medical expenses, donate at gofundme.com/HealingforTristanBallinger.