LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – An Oldham County teen is making a surprising recovery after a serious brain injury left him in a coma.
Tristan Ballinger woke up from the coma days before his 16th birthday. His father, Mike Ballinger, remembers getting a call from his wife when the accident happened back on November 16.
"I was about 80 miles from Minneapolis when it happened," he said. "There'd been an accident at home and I needed to get home right away."
Mike Ballinger said the active teen was playing in the backyard with friends when a piece of metal went through his head.
"The first week, it was kind of a survival situation," Mike Ballinger said.
Tristan fell into a coma.
"I think that was hardest on his mother was that she couldn't get in bed and hug him," Mike Ballinger said.
Dr. Catherine Schuster has lead Tristan Ballinger's recovery at Frazier Rehab.
"Tristan has really, I think, surprised people in terms of how quickly he has made progress," Schuster said.
He was placed in the hospital's highly successful EMERGE program, which targets people in comas with severe brain injuries and works to get them out of comas. Schuster said the program is about 90 percent successful.
Late last week, Tristan became the latest success story.
"To be part of that recovery for any patient is always - it's why I do my job," Schuster said.
The family was beyond words.
"It was unbelievable," Mike Ballinger said.
The two-sport athlete still has a long road to recovery.
"It will be lifelong," Schuster said. "Any severe brain injury to the degree of Tristan's, the fact that he is doing things makes it special."
The family said fundraisers in the community and support from local schools helped as Tristan recovered.
"To see the three high schools praying together on their own," Mike Ballinger said. "It just blew us away."
Now, that Tristan is talking, they're focused on therapy and getting him back to a normal life.
"He's a trooper. He works really hard," his father said. "His spirits are very upbeat."
Schuster said the way his recovery is going, Tristan Ballinger could be out of Frazier Rehab in a month.