Avalanche!

It was a typical day on the mountain. Many skiers were enjoying the fresh powder from the most recent winter storm. O.Q. was working on the mountain as a ski patrol officer, as he did most weekends. Suddenly, the mountain shook and snow was rapidly coming towards O.Q. It was an avalanche and O.Q. was caught right in the middle of it. The avalanche carried O.Q. for quite a distance and he was buried beneath a large pile of snow.

O.Q. was fortunate that there were many fellow ski patrol officers on the mountain that day that were experienced with avalanche rescues. His colleagues immediately set a plan into action to rescue him. The ski patrol team managed to get O.Q. out from under the snow and then he was airlifted to a hospital.

While in the emergency room, O.Q. was discovered to have suffered severe multiple traumas as a result of the avalanche. He had a traumatic brain injury with a right depressed skull fracture that warranted immediate brain surgery to repair.

O.Q. had suffered many facial fractures, especially on the right side of his face; along with right tibia and fibula fractures, which also required immediate surgery to repair. A few weeks later, O.Q. also developed deep venous thrombosis (severe blood clots) in both of his legs, which required a filter to be placed in a large blood vessel called the inferior vena cava.

After being medically stabilized in an acute hospital setting, O.Q. was transferred to the hospital's rehabilitation unit where he received therapy to assist him with cognitive, physical and psychological difficulties that had arisen from surviving the avalanche. Some of these difficulties included physical therapies such as range of motion and balance and gait to address his his orthopedic injuries; occupational therapy to address visual deficits, and cognitive therapy to address decreased processing speed, flexibility of thinking, memory and attention.

O.Q. was also a captain of a fire department and desperately wanted to be able to return to this job and his job as a ski patrol officer. Return to this type of employment would require O.Q. to participate in a more intense therapy program.

Approximately two months after surviving being buried in an avalanche, O.Q. was admitted to Centre for Neuro Skills® (CNS) in Bakersfield, CA. CNS is a postacute residential rehabilitation program that specializes in brain injuries, such as O.Q's.

Although O.Q. had received excellent acute rehabilitation following his brain injury, he needed postacute rehabilitation services to re-integrate into the community and become as independent as possible so that he could return to being a fireman and ski patrol officer.

Upon admission to CNS, O.Q. was not able to ambulate independently. He was confined to a wheelchair until his lower extremity fractures healed enough so that he could put weight on them. Balance and gait issues would then be worked on as he transitioned from the wheelchair to a walker, to a single point cane, to eventually ambulating independent of any assistive devices.

Visual difficulties were another area of deficit for O.Q. After his brain injury, O.Q.'s visual perception, visual scanning and depth perception were deficient, which would prevent him from driving and returning to work, if they were not remediated.

In the area of cognitive function, O.Q. had difficulties with short-term memory, processing information quickly and effectively, being able to focus his attention for sustained periods of time, inability to multi-task, and impaired skills for following complex directions. These skills are essential in occupations, like firefighting.

Rehabilitation following a brain injury is hard work and requires determination and a lot of motivation. These were two characteristics that O.Q. had plenty of. He never appeared to get frustrated and after each task would ask, "What's next?" O.Q.'s approach to rehabilitation was as if it were his job. He focused on improving his skills and made each and every day that he was at CNS count.

After 8 weeks of medical and rehabilitative treatment at CNS, O.Q. returned to independent living with his wife and was eventually able to return to driving and his occupations as a fireman and ski patrol officer. O.Q. has found another passion in life: being an advocate for others with brain injury. He can frequently be found at brain injury awareness and educational events, offering his inspiration and support for others who have survived a brain injury.