After surviving 40-foot fall, Billings man grateful for care he received from St. Vincent nurses and medical team

SVH Tom PaxinosOn March 27, 2019, Tom Paxinos, of Billings, fell nearly 40 feet off the Rims, near Two Moon Park. Seventeen days later, he awoke in a hospital bed, completely unaware of where he was. 

As a Billings realtor, his day had started as it normally does by showing a house within the Billings area. He planned to go on a walk with his girlfriend and their dogs later that afternoon. When his dog ran astray during their walk and did not come back, Paxinos followed its trail, and inadvertently fell during his effort to retrieve the canine. The area that they had fallen from on the Rims did not look like the edge of the trail, so it caught Paxinos off guard. The accident resulted in a 40-foot fall that caused severe brain injuries for Paxinos, yet his dog, Zeus, made it without barely a scratch. 

“I don’t know how many firefighters, ambulances, or police officers were at the accident site, or how many doctors, nurses or techs were at the hospital to save my life, but it was just the right amount,” said Paxinos. 

While the accident and days following are a blur for Paxinos, his family vividly recalls that period in their lives.

“He was in the ICU at St. Vincent Healthcare, hooked up to every machine you can imagine, comatose,” recalled Tom’s mother, Pennie Rollwitz. “I knew it was very, very serious. I’m an x-ray tech. In my field, I saw a lot of CAT scans and I never, ever saw anyone with that kind of an injury that was still alive.”

Dr. Louis Ross, St. Vincent Neurological Surgeon, performed brain surgery on him and removed the pieces of bone that had been jarred into his brain. Paxinos was in a coma for 17 days following.

“You could just feel that positive energy in his room coming from his care team every single day. And I know that was a huge part of his recovery -- those wonderful nurses, respiratory therapists and that trauma team. They were just wonderful and so kind,” Rollwitz said. “I remember the day that I said, ‘Tom, can you give me a thumbs up, buddy?’ It was the beginning of him getting better every day.” 

Paxinos was later transported to Craig Hospital in Colorado, where he began his brain trauma rehabilitation process. Nearly a year and a half later, Paxinos has made a strong recovery because of the quality of the medical care that was provided to him by first responders and the care team at St. Vincent Healthcare. 

“Even during the time that I was in a coma at St. Vincent, there were hundreds of people that visited me, yet all of the staff and nurses treated each person like they truly mattered,” Paxinos said. “Even after such an event and a long recovery, I still know how to sell real estate, I still know how to clean my house and I still know how to go to the gas station. Because I still have the ability to do everything, I know that I must be here for something good.”

This year, the SAINTS campaign will culminate by celebrating the great care that our caregivers provide with an all day media event on Thursday, October 8, 2020 that will benefit the Nelles Nurse Scholarship and Education Programs. The scholarships and educational opportunities provided to caregivers have made a huge impact on St. Vincent Healthcare, as well as Billings and surrounding areas we serve. Thanks to the vision and generosity of Ralph Nelles, St. Vincent Healthcare is proud to say that for nearly two decades, we have been able to recruit the “Best of the Best,” retain and educate nurses at St. Vincent Healthcare through this innovative program and its generous donors. 

The dollars raised through this year’s SAINTS are critical in the delivery of safe, quality healthcare to the communities in which we serve. Donate online by visiting svh.org/SAINTS, by texting SAINTS to 32037, or by calling us on October 8 at 406-294-5910 to benefit nurses like those who compassionately cared for Paxinos.

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