In April 2001, Rich Owen was a small business owner working 60-80 hours a week with a wife and two children, ages 18 months and five years. Late one night, after leaving a sales meeting, he stopped at a convenience store where his car was carjacked. He was thrown from his vehicle and landed on a curb, sustaining a traumatic brain injury. He was rushed to Denver General Hospital (Denver Health) for emergency brain surgery.
He woke up after six weeks in a coma (three weeks in a natural coma and three weeks in a drug-induced coma) at Craig Hospital. He couldn’t talk or walk.
“When I woke up, my long-term memory was still intact. I remembered all of my past, but I couldn’t remember something that had just happened. And I couldn’t form words to speak,” says Owen. By working with a speech therapist at Craig, he was able to place his tongue in the right place to form words and speak again.
“I was also determined, no matter what it would take, to walk again. I worked on it every day,” he says. He used a walker to get regain strength in his legs and then moved to crutches. After two more weeks, he was walking on his own.
“The brain is one of the most complex organs in the human body, controlling everything from the way we think and behave to how we move. A traumatic brain injury can have far-reaching consequences, but our goal is to help patients like Rich return home prepared for the future as possible,” says Dr. Alan Weintraub, medical director of the Brain Injury Program at Craig Hospital.
“My family stuck with me every step of the way. I’ve tried to go back to work, but my short-term memory challenges prohibit me from doing so,” Owen says. For the past 16 years, he has been what he calls a SHARK – “stays home and raises the kids.”
“Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to that. I'm more involved in my kids’ lives than I ever could have been prior to my injury.”
Additionally, Owen found that volunteering was a big part of his recovery, and it continues to give him a sense of worth. He has volunteered with his kids’ school, his church, Cub Scouts and various camps. Currently Owen volunteers at Craig and has been involved with many research studies to help people who have sustained a traumatic brain injury be functional and lead happy lives.
To help him with multitasking and short-term memory challenges, Rich keeps lists. “I live by pen and paper,” he says.
Rich met with a neurologist for several years after his TBI to monitor his Tegretol level due to a seizure disorder. He was put on seizure medication and hasn’t had a seizure since 2008.
“I’m one example of one person who has been able to recover from a traumatic brain injury and live a fulfilling, functional life. I would not be alive if it weren’t for my family, today’s medicine and the medical community, including Denver Health and Craig Hospital.”
This summer, Rich and his wife will celebrate 30 years of marriage, and in May they will celebrate as one son will graduate from high school and the other will graduate from Colorado State University