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June 01, 2015

Brian Brown: Redefining Faith

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Brian Brown set three main goals after he sustained a traumatic brain injury. He wanted to return to work as a firefighter, finish his corvette and summit Mt. Evans again. The road to complete these goals was hard, but rewarding. It looked daunting after the accident in July 2006 nearly claimed his life. Brian Brown and his wife Alice were riding to the top of Mt. Evans, one of the highest paved roads in the United States. Brian was riding back down the mountain to help his wife through some road damage, when his bike hit a drainage pipe and he went flying 90 feet onto the pavement.

He was wearing his helmet, but sustained serious injuries including: a brain sheer, 3 hematomas located on the brain, contrecoup (when the brain strikes the skull), fractured jaw, temporary loss of hearing, broken clavicle, temporary paralysis of the left hip and leg, full-body road rash. It was a long road of recovery ahead. Brian suffered focal seizures, sometimes having as many as 25 a day.

Since 2006, Brian has completed his three goals and has set new ones. He says his relationship with his wife was essential in his recovery.

Q & A with Brian Brown:

How were you injured?
On July 1st, 2006, Alice and I decided to bicycle from Echo Lake to the top of Mt. Evans. We were wearing helmets! At Summit Lake, I started the increased ascent to the top, decided to come back down to help Alice through some road damage. As I descended, I rode over the bulge in the pavement from the drainage pipe which launched me in the air, and skidding 90 feet on the pavement. The extent of my injuries are as follows: brain sheer, 3 hematomas located on the brain, contrecoup (when the brain strikes the skull), fractured jaw, temporary loss of hearing, broken clavicle, temporary paralysis of the left hip and leg, full-body road rash, stitches in the left hand.

After 3 weeks at Craig, I started showing signs of seizing while sleeping.

A few days later, I began having on-going focal seizures, sometimes as many as 25 per day. I returned to ICU until the correct "cocktail" of anti-seizure meds could be discovered for my particular case. While back in ICU for 3 weeks, I was strapped in the bed as I was medicated to stop each seizure and was dysfunctional. The time in bed caused my body to create multiple pulmonary embolisms (blood clots) in the four lobes of my lungs, causing me to take medication that would keep the PEs from creating. Also, I contracted MRSA while in the hospital.

What did you work on when you came to Craig?
My in-patient time (the first 3.5 weeks after arriving) was as follows: At first, I was just trying to comprehend what happened to me. About one week after the accident, I endured a harrowing headache which we were told is normal. The team approach with the staff and family was critical to the involvement of all to work toward the goal of my anticipated good outcome.

I was super motivated to get out of a wheelchair to a walker to a cane and then independently walking, so physical therapy was my favorite. I was very cooperative and motivated to excel in speech and occupational therapies. In each of these therapies, I would be encouraged to succeed whether I played a game on a table or on a computer. I received hands-on physical therapy to regain balance and muscle movement.

After the seizures were controlled, I returned to Craig as an outpatient for all three therapies, five days per week. The therapies increased in difficulty. Then I started to meet with Eileen to help me transition to working at my occupation. This was a slow process because once you've been hospitalized for a few months, even riding in a car is overwhelming. So returning to work for an hour is incredibly stimulating and exhausting. I did as the therapists, doctors and Eileen suggested because if I pushed too quickly, which is my personality, I would regress. One step forward or two steps back.

What were some of the important goals you wanted to accomplish after your injury?
The biggest goal was to return to work. I had 18 years with the fire department and I was determined to get to 20 since the reward was the 20 year ring. This loomed large as a goal, which seemed so unattainable in certain instances of my journey. Another goal was to finish the restoration of my 1975 Corvette. Finally, but probably the most surprising, was to regain my physical health to the point that I could ride my bicycle successfully to the top of Mt. Evans .

What would you tell families who have a loved one going through rehab after a traumatic brain injury?
Trust the doctors, nurses, therapists. Ask questions, take notes, listen to what is happening. The staff is there for you as well. You are a critical part of the progression of the therapies and outcomes. Reach out to advocates who have walked the road you are traversing. Knowing you are not alone is key so don't withdraw. Be active in this process. Your patient needs you, even when they are fighting. That's because they are fighting for their lives.

What have you been up to since your accident?
I did return to work full-time 11 months after the accident. I received my ring, which has more meaning than "20 years of service". It's a symbol of coming out of the darkness of this injury to the life I have now. Fulfilled and full of new dreams and plans for the future. I did finish the restoration of the Corvette. It's my baby and I drive it with an appreciation most people will never understand. Also, I have medaled in the Colorado State Police and Fire Games over the past five years in the Toughest Competitor Alive (TCI) event. The TCI is a one day "Decathlon" with eight different events in one day. It's challenging, exhausting, and fulfilling at the same time with my fellow fire and police brothers and sisters.

The Mt. Evans? My wife and I conquered this ride one year and one day after my accident. We celebrated with a few photos at the top and carefully descended this peak, never to return again. Mt. Evans - one. Brian and Alice - one. Good enough.

How do you feel that you redefine possible in your life?
Publicly redefined, my approach to others that have a birth defect or a traumatic injury is much more personal. I now enjoy connecting with those who are enduring a physical, emotional, or mental challenge. I enjoy encouraging the caregivers of these people. Some people are going through a temporary experience and sometimes the experience is permanent.

Personally redefined, I have exceeded my goals for physical fitness. The most important thing is my relationship with my wife. A TBI can be a marriage bender or ender. We were fortunate to be able to endure the rocky obstacle course of a traumatic brain injury. I am so thankful for the relationship I have with my wife, a relationship that has been redefined and refined. Also, my family was determined to help me every day, every way. I see my family in a different light and my trust and love for them is steadfast. My friendships and relationships with friends and co-workers inspire me to be more intentional and available.

Spiritually redefined, the dark moments of recovery revealed who I am as a man and who my God is in my life. Before my accident, my favorite Bible verses were James 1:2-3, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." These verses have been redefined by my accident and recovery. I lived every letter. The words in these verses ring true and are poignant. I stand firmly on my faith because of the entire experience.

Thank you, Craig Hospital, for the care and encouragement. You have been a blessing to me and my family.

Brian Brown
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