By Alex Baldwin
I was a 21-year-old college student with one year left to graduate when an accident changed my life forever.
On Oct. 21, 2008, I was struck by a motor vehicle resulting in a severe head trauma and multiple life threatening injuries including multiple skull fractures, blood accumulation between the skull and the brain (subdural hematomas), blood around the brain tissue (subarachnoid hemorrhages), and extensive brain tissue bruising (contusions) and swelling.
My road to recovery was long, and I was admitted to the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Neurological Intensive Care Unit. I can’t say that I remember much of over the month of my ICU stay, but I am very grateful to everyone who was involved in my care and rooted for me.
The initial treatment consisted of removing portions of skull bones on both sides to relieve pressure of the underlying brain (craniectomy). Electrodes were placed within the brain tissue to monitor my intracranial pressure and guide the medical treatment. My hospital stay was complicated by respiratory failure, pneumonia, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, inflammation of the peripheral veins, and severe confusion and agitation, just to name a few. I was having difficulty breathing on my own and required continuous machine support through a tracheostomy tube (breathing tube inserted through the neck to the lungs). Because of the prolonged hospital stay, I was weak, malnourished and had difficulty swallowing, therefore a feeding tube through the stomach wall (PEG tube) had to be placed to provide me with my daily caloric requirements.
By the time I was medically stable enough for discharge, I continued to need breathing and feeding tubes and obtained intense physical, occupational and speech training and rehabilitation.
After beating the odds and overcoming multiple complications, I was finally discharged to an inpatient rehabilitation facility over a month later on Nov. 24, only to face my biggest challenge yet. During my five months of inpatient rehabilitation, I had to learn how to walk, talk and function again. My biggest enemy was time, as minutes, hours and days seemed longer than they actually were. I powered through every day thanks to the unconditional support of my family and friends. I was discharged from rehab in April of 2009 and continued outpatient rehab throughout the summer.
The turning point, the day I put the accident behind me and started seeing life positively again, was the day I earned back my driver's license. After a year of hiatus, I returned to college and got my degree in communications media – video productions, an achievement I am extremely proud of. One of my proudest moments is when the lieutenant general of New Jersey Kim Gadagno announced to the whole crew: “This is the hardest working man in the room,” recognizing my hard work.
Today I live a normal life. I live independently and enjoy playing sports with my friends regularly. Overcoming this long uphill struggle made me a better man, more responsible, focused, driven, thoughtful and caring. I am stronger than ever. My journey was truly a blessing in disguise.
If I had one message to send to any traumatic brain injury patient or their family, it would be a quote that came from my best friend that he said to me when I was trying to overcome my own mind, and I made into a necklace that I wear just below my tracheotomy scar every day to this day that says "do work." Do work and you will overcome any obstacle that stands in your way throughout your rehabilitation. Get up and do work. #LeadingInsights #StoriesofHope