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Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor Finishes 5k Flanked by His UH Hometown Team
By Cliff Megerian, MD, FACS
Chief Executive Officer, University Hospitals
Jane and Henry Meyer Chief Executive Officer Distinguished Chair
Four years ago, at age 38, Matt fell asleep at the wheel on a Colorado highway, losing control of his vehicle and plummeting 87 feet down a mountaintop. The traumatic brain injury he suffered left him needing to re-learn how to stand, to walk, to navigate through life again.
However, the damage from the accident was more than just physical. Like many traumatic brain injury survivors, Matt experienced emotional and cognitive changes from the accident, especially in what we health care professionals call executive functioning – those skills like planning, time management, organization, self-monitoring and control that help us achieve goals. As he began his recovery back in Ohio at University Hospitals, Matt had many dark days.
But Matt had one important thing going for him. He had Northeast Ohio’s hometown health care team in his corner. UH neurologist Hesham Abboud, MD, neuropsychiatrist Rajeet Shrestha and neuropsychologist Jill Winegardner, PhD, have worked with Matt for more than three years to address his cognitive and emotional changes, as well as to help him manage his weekly tasks to avoid mental fatigue.
“He’s made so much progress,” Dr. Winegardner tells me. “When I first met Matt, he was a very unhappy person who felt the world was trying to control him. Now he sees that he has power to control his destiny.”
At the same time, physical therapists Tim Leo and Emily Ludwig and occupational therapist Katie Dickinson at UH St. John Medical Center have helped Matt get back on track physically and operationally. The first time Matt visited Dr. Winegardner’s office at UH Cleveland Medical Center, his father was pushing his wheelchair. Now, Matt is walking and even driving again with a temporary tag, eager to regain his driver’s license.
As the saying goes, teamwork makes the dream work.
Together, Matt and his therapists have celebrated those seemingly small steps that are in actuality giant accomplishments for patients with traumatic brain injury.
“We tend to take for granted the things we’re able to do – stand up independently, transfer from one surface to another, bathe ourselves,” Tim explains. “When an accident like this happens, it takes away your autonomy, your individuality, your personhood.”
But all of this pales in comparison to what Matt and his UH team recently achieved together – completing an entire 5K on Kelley’s Island. For more than a mile, he walked without the assistance of his walker and then briefly used it to gain more strength. And when Matt said he wanted to complete the race without the walker, his UH therapists – Tim, Emily and Katie – were right there, supporting Matt with a gait belt as he pushed the walker aside. Together, they crossed the finish line, greeted by the cheering and clapping of an enthusiastic Northeast Ohio crowd. Kelley’s Island police even sounded their sirens in tribute.
We talk a lot in health care about teams, especially multidisciplinary ones where each member adds his or her own expertise to help heal the patient. In Matt’s case, every member of his hometown UH health care team stepped up to get him where he is today – on the road to recovery and ready to move on with his life.
At University Hospitals, we are the hometown team. Our local focus sets us apart. Our more than 32,000 caregivers are dedicated to the Northeast Ohio communities where we live and serve our patients. And when we get such positive feedback from patients like Matt, it energizes our team to keep hitting the ball out of the park: “To have a team really dedicated to my recovery has been invaluable."