Ryan Ranft

Ryan Ranft

A Team Effort

Ryan Ranft made a miraculous recovery from a traumatic brain injury thanks to his trauma team and support from his friends and family.


Jenny and Jim Ranft were out of town in May 2013 when they received a call from their 16-year-old son’s number. But it wasn’t their son on the other end. It was one of his friends telling them that Ryan had been in an accident and was unconscious and bleeding from his head. Jenny asked if he had called 911 and he said yes. She then told him to make sure they took Ryan to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, and immediately tried to find the fastest way home from California.

When Ryan arrived in the emergency department, the trauma team was standing by to assess his injuries. Scans showed that Ryan had a traumatic brain injury that included a crack in his skull and severe swelling. Doctors continued to monitor Ryan and administered medicine to try to bring down the pressure on his brain. The initial prognosis was not good.

Back in California while en route to the airport, Jim was able to speak with the physicians at the hospital as well as one of the paramedics. It was then he realized the seriousness of Ryan’s injuries. “I could hear the urgency in the paramedic’s voice,” remembers Jim. “He told me to get there as soon as possible—that Ryan’s spinal fluid was leaking and his head injuries were severe.”

The frantic parents boarded a plane not knowing if their son was even going to make it through the night. Because Jim is a Chicago firefighter, he knew that Lutheran General Hospital is a Level I Trauma Center. So they were confident that Ryan would be in the hands of the best trauma physicians and surgeons in the area.

The Waiting Game

Ryan’s parents arrived at the hospital the next morning to see about 30 friends and family members gathered and were finally able to learn the extent of their son’s injuries. Traumatic brain injuries can cause a host of physical, cognitive, social, emotional and behavioral effects, and outcomes can range from complete recovery to permanent disability or death. So the physicians were not able to provide the family with any long-term prognosis until they saw how things progressed.

Ryan had been transferred to the surgical intensive care unit for continued monitoring. By the next afternoon, Ryan’s brain was still swelling. Doctors decided to put Ryan into a medically induced coma and inserted a drain into his head to try to reduce the cranial pressure. After 36 hours, they started to bring Ryan out of the coma only to have his level start to rise again. He was put back into a coma for more than a week.

“Ryan’s caregivers were very supportive and comforting, but very honest with us,” remembers Jenny. “They always explained what they were doing and why. We were so grateful for the care Ryan received.”

Critical care nurse Kathy Voss, RN, spent a lot of time with the Ranft family during Ryan’s stay at the hospital. “We strive to provide a holistic approach to care for the whole family, not just the patient,” she says. “The Ranfts rarely left Ryan’s bedside. We wanted to make sure that everyone in the family was cared for physically and emotionally.”

Back in Action

Ryan was slowly brought out of the coma and started responding in small ways—moving his arm, blinking and trying to talk. The family recognized there was a long journey ahead before Ryan would be the active, athletic teenager they knew.

“Ryan is a fighter. Not only is he young and strong, but he had so many people pulling for him, including his brother, Ben, and his buddies and teammates from school,” says Jenny. “The day he gave me a kiss on the cheek was one of the best. Even the doctors were surprised to see how much progress he was making.”

After 23 days at Lutheran General Hospital, Ryan was ready to move on to the next phase of his recovery at a rehabilitation center, where he spent a month learning to walk and eat again, rebuilding his muscles, and working on cognitive and memory issues.

“Ryan was so determined to regain his strength and get back to the life he knew,” says Jenny. “He defied the odds. He will not let this define him.”

To the amazement of his doctors and therapists, Ryan went back to school last fall at St. Patrick’s High School on Chicago’s Northwest Side. He works out with the football team, gets good grades and recently got his driver’s license.

Ryan and his family went to visit the fire station where the first responders work, and no one could believe he was walking and talking. “Things went right,” says Jenny. “A lot of things went wrong that night, but Lutheran General Hospital and the trauma team got it right.”

First published: Spring 2014