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Alumni Update: Grant Russum

October 01, 2018

In 2011, Grant graduated from high school in Texas and was looking forward to heading to the University of Colorado in Boulder in the fall to study engineering. He loved the outdoors and Colorado was a place he had visited many times before to see his grandparents. His first semester started out well, and he quickly made friends. Five weeks into the semester in late September, while he was crossing the street to attend a study session after class, a vehicle driving into the sun struck him from behind, and Grant sustained a severe traumatic brain injury.

“It was reported as a probable fatality, but thanks to a very skilled neurosurgeon and his assistants along with some incredible nursing staff at Boulder Community Hospital, I survived. I was fortunate to not have additional extensive injuries, and slowly, ever so slowly, I started the recovery process. The nursing staff was phenomenal and my supportive family was there throughout the process,” Grant says.

After his injury, his parents did extensive research into rehabilitation facilities in Texas and Colorado as they realized that his recovery would take an extensive amount of time. “After a visit to Craig Hospital, they were quick with their decision as Craig really stood above everything else they saw,” Grant says.

After six weeks in ICU, he was transferred to Craig where he would spend the next four months learning and training - learning how to swallow, drink, eat, speak, sit up, tie his shoes, brush his teeth, shower, comb his hair and walk again.

“It was quite a challenge as I have very little memory of my initial time there from when the brain does not store memories due to injury. Craig Hospital provided a foundation that paved the way for my recovery to be successful. Their approach gave me the opportunity to rebuild my life and focus on what was possible. The staff were supportive and always there to assist and guide me,” Grant says. “My Craig family remains important to me today - not just the people that worked there but also many other grads I stay in touch with. The list of people that touched my life at Craig is extensive - from occupational therapy to physical therapy to speech therapy to psychology - and who can forget the therapeutic recreation? Such fun - along with incredible tech and nursing staff as well as doctors - all combined into a great system that allowed me, as well as my family, to change a horrific accident into a positive experience.”

Grant’s parents and family have been close throughout his recovery and are incredibly supportive to this day. They continue to keep him focused on the positive things he has and will accomplish.

“As I progressed, I made many new friends and focused on re-building what and who I was. But, during my recovery, I found that things were quite different. I found myself frustrated as my freshman year of college was gone. Thankfully, the great staff at Craig provided an environment for healing both the body and soul as well as helping my family learn how to cope as caregivers,” Grant says.

Grant was discharged from Craig two days before his birthday and headed back to Texas with his parents and brother. He required assistance with walking but had gained a lot of independence since his injury. He entered an outpatient program in the Dallas area that helped him gain even more independence with a focus on continuing his education at CU in Boulder. That fall, he took a community college course in chemistry. He did well but found many challenges as his short-term memory limited his capabilities. By the end of 2012, he was determined to return to CU, and he did just that in January 2013.

“In hindsight, I returned to college before I was really ready and had a challenging time. I found my social skills to be the greatest impediment to having a normal college experience, and my courses were overwhelming me. Things slowly improved, and I focused a great deal of effort on working out and staying in shape. I changed my major to Integrative Physiology as my exposure to the healthcare industry had changed my focus to that of assisting others,” Grant says.

Before his accident, Grant enjoyed working out, and that became a primary focus of his recovery. As he progressed, he also took up running. Today, he participates in a running club in Boulder and has run in multiple events.

While he was at Craig Hospital, Olympic snowboarding hopeful Kevin Pearce was the subject of a documentary called The Crash Reel, during which Grant was able to participate in a brief scene and be introduced to Kevin by Dr. Weintraub. That introduction has led to a great relationship with the Love Your Brain foundation; he has attended their annual retreat for brain injury survivors for the past four years, focusing on learning and sharing information on healthy living and, above all, community. At the end of the retreat, all members participate in the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington. During his first year, he ran a 5K in 2014, a 10K in 2015 followed by a half marathon in 2016, and in 2017, he ran a full marathon. This year, he assisted a fellow TBI survivor by participating in a two-member half marathon team while she handcycled a full marathon. He also got into biking as his primary mode of transportation around Boulder and is a large part of his weekly fitness focus.

During the past five years of recovery, he has spent most of his time in college completing his undergraduate education, working hard on improving his memory. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment, while not successful for some, had a positive impact and his academics greatly improved. After his first 1.5 years at CU, he qualified to join an academic honor fraternity, Phi Sigma Pi, which would provide good social contacts and an opportunity to do service work.

“I was especially grateful to the Craig Hospital Alumni Scholarship program for their contributions,” Grant says. “College expenses can be a huge burden and their generous contributions helped alleviate a lot of stress and provide me with a great incentive to achieve my goals.”

His focus on health care has been very fulfilling to him as he discovered a knack for working with adolescents. In 2017, he applied to the Syracuse University Madrid Center program and spent a semester abroad in Spain, acquiring more Spanish, learning more about the culture with his host family and running a half marathon in Valencia. Recently, Grant completed his degree in Integrative Physiology and participated in an academic fellowship this summer with the Adolescent Sleep Development Laboratory at CU.

“I’ve been fortunate to have some terrific instructors at CU who have encouraged me to continue my studies and pursue a graduate degree. My Boulder-based physiatrist has also been instrumental in both guiding and advising me the past few years as she has kept me from falling off the rails numerous times,” Grant says. “I’ve also shadowed several different disciplines, from general surgeons to neurosurgeons to nurses and beyond. I’m consistently impressed by the positive impact these professionals have on the lives of others and their compassion for their patients.”

Grant will be applying for graduate school beginning in the fall of 2018, but in the meantime, his opportunities include working in healthcare, pursuing additional fellowships at CU and a cultural teaching program in Spain in the spring of 2019.

“The one thing that I have learned is that no matter what you plan, things change. I’ve struggled with that, especially in light of my TBI, but life is good and as Dr. Weintraub always told me, ‘There are better days ahead,’” Grant says. “I’m very thankful for the continued relationships I have thanks to my Craig Family!”