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George's Story

George G’s song began when he took an interest in music at just five-years-old, and that song has been with him ever since.

From church to school, George played his trumpet everywhere. He was devoted to the instrument, and when it came time to select a place of higher learning, he enrolled at the University of Michigan, managing to enter the competitive Michigan Marching Band. All the while, continuously scoring high grades towards his Aerospace Engineering degree.

One day, in the summer of George’s freshman year in 2011, the music stopped.

“I was on my way to help my dad with a tire change on the highway when the accident happened,” said George. “My car hit the side of a trailer, which flipped a Bobcat earth mover onto my car. By that time my dad already got help. He was retracing my route because I didn’t pick up my phone and actually came across the scene of the accident.”

Critically-injured, George was airlifted to a nearby hospital where medical scans revealed multiple fractures, including a shattered arm and extensive leg injuries.  When George’s cognitive functioning began to rapidly decline a week later, he was diagnosed with a severe brain injury.  After undergoing 10 surgeries, including two brain surgeries, and intensive sub-acute rehabilitation, George was discharged from the hospital to begin the next phase of his recovery at an inpatient facility.

His family’s search for high quality neurorehabilitation and care led them to Special Tree’s NeuroCare Campus in Romulus, where George was transferred in November 2011.

 “We were so fortunate to find Special Tree,” said Connie G., George’s mother.   “I remember another young man who was admitted to the hospital at about the same time as George, and he didn’t have the same options that we did because he was not in Michigan when he was injured. That young man’s recovery was very different because he wasn’t able to go to a place like Special Tree.”

When George arrived at Special Tree, he was still on a ventilator and in a state of waking sleep.  He maintained basic motor skills like standing with assistance, but had little cognitive awareness. To help George achieve the best outcome possible, Special Tree’s highly specialized therapy team developed an integrated rehabilitation plan that addressed his specific needs and care.  Therapists also assured George’s family that everyone would need to work together as a team – family and Special Tree staff – to help George through his recovery.

“That was so comforting to hear, especially after little stumbles or incidents,” said Connie. “I had no idea how much therapists did here. The speech therapists helped him do more than just speech – they helped him learn to swallow and tolerate water and food.”

With the right rehabilitation plan in place and a strong circle of support, George made steady progress in his recovery, and finally regained cognitive awareness during a physical therapy session in the Spring of 2012.   However, he was now painfully sensitive to light, touch, and sounds which interfered with his rehabilitation.   “When you have a brain injury, the way you respond to tactile sensation can be confusing.  Things that are normally not interpreted as painful like pressure, can be interpreted by the brain as painful,” said Gavin Milner, Physical Therapist.

Therapists slowly increased George’s tolerance to stimuli through sensory integration therapy to help reduce constant pain and discomfort.  With his sensory challenges under control, George was able to fully participate in Special Tree’s wide range of rehabilitation services and programs including inpatient, outpatient, residential, day treatment, and vocational rehabilitation.

George was now more determined that ever to get better and impressed everyone at Special Tree with his drive to do whatever was needed to accomplish his therapy goals.  “Whether it was building back his ability to use his hand or improve his memory and attention, George was always ready for anything,“ said Milner.  So when the Michigan Marching Band invited him back to play trumpet as a volunteer, he accepted without hesitation.  George’s song was beginning once again.  With just a few months to prepare for the band’s grueling summer practices, George and his multi-disciplinary team worked closely together to improve the skills he’d need to be successful at band camp including endurance, strength, coordination, concentration, and memory.

“George’s doctor signed off on the camp thinking it would be a few hours a day, but he ended practicing from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and did great,”  said Connie.  “He’s very serious about it and that focus helped bring his concentration back. One time a bee managed to fly up his pant leg while he was marching, but he didn’t stop to swat it, even after it stung him. He just kept marching and playing.”

By the fall of 2014, George had made such great strides in his recovery that he was discharged from Special Tree, although he’s the first to say that his recovery is ongoing and long-term.   He now attends Washtenaw Community College with the hopes of one day rejoining his peers at the University of Michigan and is still an active participant in the Michigan Marching Band.

“You have to remain hopeful and never give up on what you want to do,” said George. “At first my mom had to help me when I moved around the house, but now I can walk around like it was nothing. The thing is that you have to stick with it and keep going. It might seem like a long time, and it is, but in the greater sense it’s not. I can’t believe it’s been four years, but you just can’t ever give up.”