Payton Carter recently made the trip from Kentucky to Memphis for a very special reason – to thank the providers at Regional One Health who she credits with saving her life.
Payton was rushed to the Elvis Presley Trauma Center with life-threatening injuries after a car accident.
Thanks to the expert medical care and compassion she received at the trauma center and our Extended Care Hospital, she is back to her life and even hoping to go to veterinarian school in the future.
Payton Carter doesn’t remember the first time she was at Regional One Health’s Elvis Presley Trauma Center. The second time, however, is something she’ll never forget.
In October 2023, Payton made the three-hour trip from western Kentucky to Memphis for a very special purpose – to thank the men and women who saved her life.
“Thank you will never be enough to everyone who worked with me or on me at Regional One Health. They saved my life,” Payton said. “They saw me at my worst – almost dead. I’m extremely lucky and blessed to be where I am, and I wanted them to see that. I wanted them to see me and meet me, and I wanted to meet the people who cared for me.”
Although Payton was a patient for nearly three months, she is accurate when she says she didn’t truly meet the providers who cared for her. It is a testament to the severity of her injuries.
The morning of November 1, 2022, Payton was driving from her home in Marion, Arkansas to the Bass Pro Pyramid, where she was on the live exhibits team, working as one of the scuba divers who take care of the fish and participate in daily shows.
She was about to get onto the bridge into Memphis when she swerved to avoid a car in front of her, veering into the other lane. She was T-boned by a semi, and the impact was so dramatic that her car hit the concrete barrier and then crossed three lanes before striking the guardrail.
Paramedics rushed her to the Elvis Presley Trauma Center, the only level-one trauma center in a 150-mile radius of Memphis. Payton, who remembers nothing of the accident or trip to the hospital, had a traumatic brain injury, pulmonary injuries, and a fractured pelvis.
Back in Kentucky, her mom and dad were notified and immediately made their way to Memphis. Through their shock and worry, they received a glimmer of hope from a family friend, Dr. Brian Hawkins, an emergency room doctor. Ironically, in the months since Payton’s accident, Dr. Hawkins joined the team at Regional One Health as medical director for emergency medicine.
“My dad told him where I was and asked if it was a good place,” Payton said. “Brian told him, ‘It’s the best of the best. If she’s going to be anywhere, that’s where she needs to be.’ It made my parents feel as good as they could in that situation. He gave them hope.”
As the weeks wore on, Dr. Hawkins’ assessment proved true, as Payton was treated with both expertise and compassion by providers including neurosurgeon Stephanie Einhaus, MD, who performed procedures that Payton and her family credit with saving her life. “My mom says Dr. Einhaus was incredible. She has been singing her praises for the past year!” Payton said.
Payton spent six weeks in intensive care, much of it heavily sedated and in orthopedic traction. She was then transferred to Regional One Health’s Extended Care Hospital, where she was weaned off a ventilator and had her trach removed, allowing her to start inpatient rehabilitation.
Almost a year later, Payton has made amazing progress. She relearned to walk and was cleared to drive. As her ability to be independent returned, she started to feel and act more like her old self – and that’s who she wanted her Regional One Health care team to meet.
“I’ve been told I was very quiet when I was in the hospital, which is not like me. I’m normally a very outgoing, talkative person. And I’m loud!” she laughed.
While Payton at times struggles with how much her life has changed, the freedom of being able to walk and talk and drive has sparked her desire to plan her future.
At 27, she is eager to combine her passion for working with animals and her fascination with the medical field. “My route after college was working with wildlife. I worked at a zoo and then came down to Memphis as an aquarist,” she said. “Now, I’m ready to take a different path – I want to try to get into vet school. I need to continue to heal, but that’s my plan.”
As she pursues her dreams, she’ll maintain a special place in her heart for the providers who cared for her at Regional One Health, and she’ll cherish the new memories she made by coming back to the hospital – this time on her own terms.
“People who work in the medical field don’t always get to see their wins,” she said. “I wanted to show them what they did, and I wanted to meet the people who did so much for me.”