Ballinger progresses, to return to Chicago for therapy in 2018

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By Amanda Manning

 Tristan Ballinger has returned from the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, where some doctors have called him a “living miracle.”

A year ago today, 16-year-old Tristan Ballinger emerged from a six-week coma after he was accidentally struck in the forehead by a sword.

He recently spent eight weeks at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, which is named number one in the country for rehabilitation, according to a World Report of best hospitals.

 During that stay, he completed occupational, physical and speech outpatient therapy four times a week. Now, Tristan Ballinger can stand up with a little help, can sit in a chair, move his wheelchair on his own and is speaking in full sentences.

 “There’s nothing physically wrong with why he can’t walk. It’s just his brain sending him the signals,” Mike Ballinger explained.

 The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab has the latest technology, according to Mike Ballinger.

 Inside the facility, Tristan Ballinger worked with therapists on a floor that is dedicated to pediatric brain injuries. They placed him in a robotics suit that helped him both walk and works on muscle memory.

 The equipment at the facility also helped him gain strength back, in addition to the extension back in his arms.

 During those sessions, therapists would pump Tristan Ballinger up with songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “All I do is Win.”

 “It was something to get him going and encourage him,” Kaleigh Ballinger, Tristan’s sister, said.

 Tristan Ballinger continues to surprise doctors, and to beat the original diagnosis the family received - that he wouldn’t live, wouldn’t walk and wouldn’t talk again. Now, he’s doing all of those things.

 “They were blown away,” Mike Ballinger said about the doctors in Chicago. “Medically, when somebody looks at his charts… he shouldn’t be doing any of this stuff. So they’re not really able to give us a prognosis.”

 Multiple doctors noted to their family that Tristan Ballinger’s scans don’t match up to him.

 “We overheard one therapist talking to another therapist who hadn’t had him yet, and she said, ‘don’t look at his charts, give him the tasks to do and then look at his charts. Because if you look at his charts, he should be curled up in a fetal position,’” Mike Ballinger said.

 Although his long-term memory is intact, he is having some difficulty with his short-term memory.

 “He’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic amnesia. He has difficulty remembering, things like breakfast,” Mike Ballinger said.

 But doctors are hopeful that he will get back to his normal self.

 “They think that he’ll snap out of it, but they don’t know when,” Mike Ballinger said. “It could be this afternoon. It could be six months from now. Some patients never snap out of it.”

 The family plans to return to the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago three times in 2018. “Four weeks of everyday therapy just to try to get him one more advancement,” Nicole Ballinger explained about the trips.

 “The plan is that we’re going to be home again until March,” Mike Ballinger said. “Insurance will only cover the first 30 days, so we’ll be funding the other stuff out of pocket.”

 “It’s worth it. He’s made a lot of progress up there,” he added.

 There are no upcoming fundraisers planned that the Ballingers or the Era are aware of at this time. 

 “They used the term living miracle a few times,” Nicole Ballinger said about her son. “We get reminded often that we are very lucky to be where we are.”

 If you would like to donate to Tristan Ballinger’s rehabilitation, visit gofundme.com/tristans-rehab.