How a Drunk Driver Changed a Life Forever

J.S. was a typical 18-year-old guy. He was in his freshman year of college as a film major. He enjoyed many extreme sports such as skateboarding, snowboarding and rock climbing, as well, as guitar and piano. Friends describe J.S. as a fun-loving, talented, easy-going guy who was well liked by everyone who knew him.

On February 5, 2006 J.S's life dramatically changed. A drunk driver hit J.S.'s car and caused a serious motor vehicle accident. J.S. was ejected from the vehicle and suffered severe injuries as a result. He had a Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score of three in the emergency room, which indicated a very low level of alertness. He could not open his eyes, respond to pain or commands. J.S.'s injuries were so severe that he required a blood transfusion while being resuscitated.

Brain imaging studies (a CT scan) revealed that J.S. had sustained a severe traumatic brain injury, with a baslier skull fracture, a left subdural hematoma, frontal hemorrhagic contusions, and diffuse axonal injury (fibers that connect the left and right hemispheres of the brain are stretched and in some cases torn). J.S. also suffered a pelvic fracture, a laceration to his spleen, and a left femur fracture which required an open reduction internal fixation procedure to correct. This procedure involves a surgery to repair the bone and the fixation or placement of rods, screws or even nails to hold the bone in place to facilitate healing.

As if the above injuries were not enough to deal with, J.S. also had to have a feeding tube (PEG) to receive nutrition, a tracheotomy to help him breathe, a chest tube and an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter in his heart to help prevent blood clots.

J.S.'s acute recovery from his traumatic brain injury (TBI) was complicated by pneumonia and developing a staph infection. It was not until 2-14-06, almost a week post-accident, when J.S. was first able to open his eyes. He was still not able to follow commands and his eyes were not working at a team. J.S. only knew himself and not where he was or what time it was.

Approximately one week after he opened his eyes, J.S. was admitted to an acute rehabilitation program to begin therapy. He was still non-weight bearing due to the surgery on his leg, so he ambulated with the use of a wheelchair. Physical and occupational therapies were beginning to work with J.S. on transferring himself in and out of his wheelchair. J.S. was severely apraxic, distractible, and had a hard time expressing his needs. J.S. spoke with single words or gestures to communicate with others.

On April 27, 2006, J.S. was discharged from acute rehabilitation and began post-acute rehabilitation. Whereas the goals of acute rehabilitation are to medically stabilize the patient, post-acute rehabilitation involves getting the patient as independent as possible and integrating him or her back into the community. Upon entry into Centre for Neuro Skills® (CNS), a post-acute, brain injury facility, J.S. was at risk for falls due to being impulsive and having impaired judgment about safety. He also had impaired coordination, impaired fine and gross motor planning, problems with visual-perception, decreased endurance and strength, and required cues for eating, dressing and the majority of his activities of daily living. J.S. had many cognitive deficits including impaired memory, attention, word retrieval, orientation, and problem solving. Confabulation, confusion and no insight to his deficits were also problems that J.S. had upon admission to CNS.

After 15 months of intense rehabilitation in all therapeutic disciplines at CNS, J.S. was discharged. He had made remarkable progress in all areas. J.S. was able to ambulate in the clinic without the use of an assistive device, he was able to attend a health club at a modified independent level, had improved endurance, increased ability to problem solve, and was able to communicate successfully others. J.S. was beginning stimulated driver training in hopes of being able to return to driving soon. He also spoke at his former high school regarding his brain injury and how it was the result of a drunk driver. J.S. has returned to college and has been inspiration to many in his recovery.