The article that inspired this post was written by Melody Burri for Victor Post. I chose to share an excerpt of the article because the article clearly reveals it is possible to have a rewarding life after brain injury. In addition, the article mentions post-injury first impressions and communication, both of which are pertinent to survivors as well as the people who interact with them.
Article by Melody Burri
First impressions can be extremely deceiving. That’s the message 34-year-old Nick DeVries of Canandaigua (New York) wants to shout to the world. But he’ll have to do it slowly, with long pauses and a great deal of effort. He hopes people will take the time to listen.
For the last seven years, DeVries has grappled with the long-term challenges caused by traumatic brain injury, the result of a catastrophic motorcycle crash in California in 2007. His slow, halting speech pattern today is evidence of aphasia, which impairs DeVries’ ability to communicate ideas, and dysarthria, which limits his ability to speak words.
Simply put: There’s a lot more going on inside DeVries’ head than his words imply.
According to Laura Donaldson, executive director of Farmington-based non-profit Bridges For Brain Injury Inc., a common misconception people may have about brain injury is that the survivor has a low IQ or is intellectually impaired. Just because someone is slow of speech or needs time to find words they want to say does not mean they lack intelligence.
DeVries was riding his motorcycle home from work on July 18, 2007. According to eyewitnesses, DeVries was struck by a pickup truck, which pushed him into the path of a tractor trailer, which literally ran over his head. His helmet was crushed, but it ultimately saved his life.
In addition to traumatic brain injury, DeVries also suffered broken fingers and fractured vertebrae in his neck. He was hospitalized for four or five weeks before being transferred to Saint Mary’s Hospital in Rochester.
At least that’s what he’s been told.
DeVries said the entire experience — from just before the crash until well into his recovery — is a blank, with details filled in only by eyewitness accounts and later his family. He was also told the tractor trailer driver left the crash scene without stopping.
Seven years and a world of therapy later, DeVries may take a while to communicate what’s on his mind, but it hasn’t stopped him from attending college and buying the Canandaigua home he now shares with his “best friend” — his English bulldog.
“I know I have more to offer than what people see through my speech aphasia or dysarthria,” said DeVries. “I’m proud that I have not thrown in the proverbial towel. I’m a homeowner. I’m going back to school.”
At Wildlife Defenders, a Bridges for Brain Injury educational outreach program staffed by adult survivors of brain injuries, DeVries helps with the care of animals and makes regular appearances on television and at public programs for families and children as part of his therapy.
“Coming here provides me with some stability in my weekly schedule and some social stability,” said DeVries.“ I do presentations whenever I can because A, that helps re-immerse me in society, and B, it helps me grow in my abilities, primarily with my speech problems. It helps me grow in confidence.”
DeVries said even after seven years, he’s still very self-conscious about his speech and, unfortunately, still experiences a good deal of judgment from others.
“When I come to Bridges for Brain Injury (BBI), things are completely different. I don’t feel any judgment by other people,” said DeVries. “They know me and know my history.”
For BBI Director of Day Program and Wildlife Education John Truini, DeVries has been and continues to be a true inspiration. “Nick’s brain injury does not define him,” said Truini. “He embraces life and puts every bit of himself into everything he does. He takes on the challenges that his injury has left him, without bitterness or resentment. He’s truly a role model, for not just adults with TBI, but for all of us.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.7 million people nationwide sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI), which can vary from a mild concussion to a more severe injury. It contributes to an estimated 50,000 deaths each year, as well as more than 280,000 hospitalizations and 2.2 million emergency room visits. And TBI leaves a significant number of people disabled for the rest of their lives.
Click here to read another Beyond Injury post about a motor vehicle accident survivor.
Thanks to Nick DeVries for sharing his story; Melody Burri for writing the article that inspired this post; Victor Post for publishing the article; Google for helping me find the article; and all the people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture, video, and text I used in this post.