A catastrophic injury is an injury that has a permanent, life-altering effect and often prevents an individual from performing gainful work. Often caused by accidents, these can include traumatic brain injuries (TBI), spinal cord injuries, and amputations. After suffering a catastrophic injury, your life suddenly looks totally different, even as normal life continues around you. The juxtaposition between familiarity and the painful newness brought on by the injury can be jarring.
The adjustment process looks different for each individual person and often depends on external factors. While catastrophic injuries to the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the body are common (about 2.5 million people sustain a TBI annually), each story of adjustment, coping, and recovery is unique. Here are 4 people who have survived catastrophic injuries in their lives, with links to read their whole stories.
Jodi: Anoxia Survivor
Jodi is a family nurse practitioner from Nebraska who suffered an anoxic brain injury in 2017. Poisoned by carbon monoxide while staying in a rented cabin with a malfunctioning furnace and no carbon monoxide detector, she managed to get outside to call for help and get taken to a local hospital to receive life-saving treatment.
Jodi survived largely because she recognized the symptoms in time and knew she needed help. Although she lived, she experiences several ongoing severe symptoms, in addition to the challenges of finding new support networks and being on long-term disability. She is in the unique position of having first-hand experience with both treating brain injury and living through brain injury. Jodi hopes to go back to work as a nurse practitioner to continue helping brain injury patients. She is currently participating in a 5-year research study.
Austin: TBI Survivor
When he was 25, Austin was in a coma for 15 days after suffering severe brain and leg injuries in a car accident in 2012. He had been an avid runner since the age of 19, and as soon as he regained consciousness, he was determined to find a way to return to running. It took several weeks for him to take his first steps, but his determination did not falter. During rehab, he worked with occupational, speech, and physical therapists.
Within months he was able to start playing adaptive sports. He was also able to go on short runs, gradually increased in length over time, and participate in active recreational pursuits with his family. Ten months after the accident, he met his goal of running a 15K race, and several months later he returned to his career in sales.
Christopher: Spinal Cord Injury Survivor
In 1993, at age 22, Christopher Wynn broke a cervical vertebrae in his neck while diving into the ocean. Hours later, he found himself in a hospital paralyzed from the shoulders down, being told he would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life. After a month of treatment, he did manage to breathe on his own again and was able to begin a long rehabilitation process.
With the support of family and opportunities to participate in research studies, Christopher continued his occupational therapy and found ways to adjust to (and even thrive in) his new post-injury, adaptive life. Many years later, he started his own business in Cleveland: a spinal cord rehab facility and gym to help injured people continue their therapy and stay in shape.
Brett: Subdural Hematoma Survivor
In 2012, while on a coast-to-coast bike ride, Brett suffered a life-threatening fall. He sustained a subdural hematoma, one of the deadliest types of head injuries. During a 9-day coma, his brain started swelling and part of his skull had to be removed.
After the accident, he faced many neurological challenges, including short term memory loss and seizures. As he entered into the rehabilitation period, he prioritized daily exercise and was determined to do everything he could do to aid his recovery. After several years, Brett was able to return to his previous level of activity and no longer had any recurring issues. He enjoys sharing his story with TBI patients and medical students.
Image credit: Photo by Kevin André on Unsplash