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TBI Survivor Shares Tough Lessons Learned

By Brandon La Forest

     I recently had the opportunity to speak to students at Baker College in early November of 2012. I spoke to them about my brain injury and how I did not let anyone tell me I could not do something. My presentation went something like this:

     On October 5, 2010 a young man was on his way to a work function in the Lansing area. Around 8:30am he was on the westbound lanes of I-96, an expressway near the Lansing, Michigan area, and was involved in a serious five-car collision. He was nearly stopped, going five miles per hour for an accident in front of him on the expressway, and a car rear-ended him at 80 miles per hour. He was then hit on the passengerside by another car going 70 miles per hour and then again from the rear. Original news reports stated that the 27-year-old was killed in the car accident. Later news updates reported that the man was revived in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, underwent emergency brain surgery, and was in a coma and in critical condition. So what was the driver doing who hit him at 80 miles per hour? TEXTING! They found the driver’s phone on the ground with an unfinished text message!

So what did the doctors tell the man’s family after the accident? They said he had sustained the worst brain injury or subdural hematoma that one could have, and that he had a two percent chance of making it and if he did, that he would be a complete “vegetable.” They also reported that in addition to being in a coma, he had a broken back, spleen removed, trach (tracheotomy) put in, crushed lung, broken ribs on his left side, blood clot in his left leg, a broken neck, stroke, kidney laceration, feeding tube, chest tube, paralyzed on the left side and brain seizures.

What happened to him after all this? Well, he did not die, and he is standing right in front of you talking to you!

What did my recovery consist of after the accident? I was in a coma for just over a month and was transferred to the NeuroCare Center, Special Tree’s sub-acute facility, to begin my rehabilitation. I remember waking up from my coma and not knowing where I was and seeing all of these IVS hooked up to me, as well as a feeding tube. My mom was there and I asked her where I was and what had happened to me. She told me that I was in a serious car accident and I was at this place for my recovery. She told me just recently that she had that conversation with me several times, but I did not remember them because of the brain injury. I was sooo scared and felt so helpless! I could not walk or go to the bathroom on my own. I spent almost seven months at Special Tree and kept fighting to get better and better. During my recovery, I had to learn how to walk again and even talk. My biggest problem in speech has been with word finding and spelling. I can see the picture in my head of what I want to say, but I can’t find the word. This is so frustrating to me! I also lost hearing in both ears and have to wear hearing aids. I struggle with pain and being off balance. But despite all of this, I don't let these things get me down! I take everything one day at a time. If I don't do that I get too stressed and feel depressed. Many times during my recovery doctors would tell me that I would not be able to do something and that would push me so much harder to prove them wrong. Through hard work and determination, I completed my thesis for a master’s degree that I had started before my accident and graduated from Central Michigan University in December 2012, an accomplishment that seemed impossible two years ago.

     After giving the presentation to the students I received several emails from them telling me how moved they were by my presentation. Here is what a few of them said:

· Brandon's story is of encouragement to show that with the support of others and determination, you can almost always make it through! I wish my husband could have met him to encourage him as he struggles to heal. Monica P.

· Brandon made me see that I could get hurt, and hurt someone else so quickly and easily. It made it so much more real to me now. I refuse to play around with my phone in the car, and scold anyone else who does! Laurel P.

· Brandon changed my life. I look at life differently now, and don't take it for granted. You never know when things are going to change. I now can overcome my issues, because he did! Jenna B.

· Brandon was such an inspiration to me, to go through what he did and live was a miracle in itself. But to have such a positive attitude toward life and wanting to help and motivate others as he does is fantastic! He made me realize that I can do anything! and that my problems are trivial compared to his! He reminds me that life is a blessing, and that I am blessed! Traci B. Brandon is amazing! After his story I really think twice about just picking up my phone in the car. I used to text and drive, but that has come to a COMPLETE stop now. I don't even pick it up. Julie R.

I was very glad to see that I was able to affect these students’ lives, change their outlook on brain injury and provide a real life example of how texting while driving can change another person's life forever. In closing, I just want to tell people to be strong even if life seems to be going downhill. Things will get better and the right people will cross your path and help you through it. Doctors just shake their head when they see my records and say they have never seen a recovery like mine! They said that of all the people that had the type of brain injury that I did, only one percent recover, and never to the extent that I have. They tell me that the man upstairs has a reason for me to be here! I tell people when a door closes you have two choices....give up or keep going. Let them shut you down or prove them wrong. We all start somewhere, it’s where you end up that counts!