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New dad balances brain injury rehab, fatherhood

June 18, 2022

Alan and Meg Payne’s transition into parenthood did not happen as they anticipated.

Baby Silas was born on January 21, just a few weeks after Alan entered Craig for brain injury rehabilitation.

Alan, an art teacher in a Northeast Denver school, is an experienced cyclist. He had gone for a post-work ride on a warm Thursday afternoon in December.

On his way back home, a driver turned left in front of him, causing Alan to T-bone his truck. Even though Alan was wearing a helmet, the crash caused him to sustain a diffuse axonal brain injury, with moderate-to-severe front and temporal lobe damage.

A police officer who happened the see the accident called Meg, and she rushed through Denver traffic to Alan’s side at St. Anthony hospital. Alan was placed in a medically induced coma and spent 2.5 weeks in the intensive care unit.

Even though Meg is an experienced rehabilitation physical therapist who had worked at Craig in 2013, she never expected to face this type of situation with her own family.

“It was hard to wrap my head around it,” she says. “At first I thought that maybe he’d be home for Christmas—but that came and went, so then I thought that he’d be home before the baby was born.”

Meg and Alan met Dr. Spier, Craig’s Brain Injury Program medical director, when he was rounding at St. Anthony. Dr. Spier talked about Craig as an ideal place for Alan to take the next steps in his recovery.

“I was like, ‘if that’s what he needs, it’s the only place we want to go’ because I know it’s the best,” says Meg. “We feel so blessed that we live in a city with a world-renowned hospital like Craig.”

Alan doesn’t remember his early time at Craig. He couldn’t feed himself or shower on his own, had motor planning deficits, and had global aphasia. His speech didn’t make sense to others.

“In a way, my background was a blessing because a lot of stuff didn’t freak me out like it might have someone else,” she says. “I understood why our team was doing certain types of therapies and giving certain medications. Seeing the progress and impact of his therapies was pretty amazing.”

As Meg stood by Alan during his recovery, she also worried about the upcoming birth of their son. She looked into switching her health provider so she could deliver at Swedish Hospital near Alan.

“Alan’s team recognized that this was causing me a lot of stress,” says Meg. “They told me that this experience is stressful enough so I should continue with my original delivery plan and that they would figure out how to get Alan to the hospital when the time came.”

One week before her due date, Meg finished a half-day shift at work and came to Craig to spend time with Alan. “Dr. Spier looked at me and said, ‘you look like you’re in labor!’” she recollects. She began timing contractions and went to the hospital that night. Silas was born six hours later.

“I called the staff at Craig to let them know, and they made a big deal of it for Alan,” she says. “Within 12 hours of the birth, they had arranged for transportation, and had a tech escort Alan to meet his son at Littleton Adventist Hospital—even in the middle of a snowstorm.”

According to Alan, there is a difference between his awareness that Silas was his son and his memories of meeting him.

“My memory didn’t come back until the end of February or early March,” he says. “But I tried to escape Craig because I knew that I wanted to go home to be with my wife and son—it turns out that is frowned upon!”

Meg and Silas were able to spend time with Alan during his therapies, and the family developed close relationships with their nurses, neuropsychologist, and other therapists. Alan’s occupational therapist helped him learn how to change Silas’s diaper and care for the newborn. He especially enjoyed working with Deb, his speech therapist.

“She’s great,” he says. “She knew just how to relate to me.”

Alan was discharged on March 18 and returned for several months for outpatient therapy two days a week.

The transition back home has been a relief, but also challenging, according to Meg.

“He was so happy to be home, but a lot had changed,” she says. “A three-month chunk of time just didn’t exist for him, and we had remodeled, moved things around, and of course, there was the new baby.”

Alan deals with post-injury hyperacusis, so loud noises like the baby crying can bother him. The couple has been working to learn the baby’s rhythms, and modify Alan’s schedule and routine to accommodate. He hopes to eventually return to work or stay at home with Silas.

Alan recommends that other new dads in this situation be patient with themselves.

“My advice is to remember that love is patient, and love is kind,” he says. “I need to take the pressure off of myself.”

Meg agrees. “It’s often hard for new dads to connect with their babies in normal times, let alone when they come home after having had a brain injury and being hospitalized,” she says. “We’re practicing patience and trusting that he will have the rest of his life to develop a natural connection with his son.”

That connection is already blossoming.

“I like that my son relies on me—it’s significant,” says Alan.

“He’s there for me also. When his face lights up when he sees me, it’s beautiful.”