Recovery From Brain Injury: Zach Part One
This is the story of Zach Gauvin, author of the autobiographical book, the Miracle Kid. But recovery from brain injury is not about “miracles” – it is about medicine, it is about rehabilitation, it is about the “not quites.” When I say “not quites” I am talking about the often surprisingly subtle deficits that persist, despite the “miracle” recovery from brain injury. Imagine you had been a member of Zach’s community and heard of the tragedy of his severe brain injury and month long coma at age 17. Undoubtedly, meeting him years later for the first time, you would have expected him to be profoundly symptomatic, clearly “brain damaged.” Thus, the shock and surprise as to how normal Zach is, how great the miracle of his recovery from brain injury. In Zach’s own words:
“I wanted to give people tips on how to recover from a brain injury because I’ve had such an amazing recovery from brain injury. I mean a lot of people don’t know anything’s wrong with me.”
Enter the “not quites.” Our interview with Zach has numerous examples, but none more ironic than this. Zach was injured after a drinking binge his junior year of high school, with the purported motive for getting drunk on that night, despair over going 0 for 4 in a baseball game, bringing his season average down from .500 to .466. A year into his “miracle recovery from brain injury” he waited until the last game of his senior season to be allowed to play, despite being the team captain. In that game, with three at bats, Zach expressed elation that he almost got a hit.
“I like killed this line drive. Like they were screaming and it was foul and I was like, oh. Like, you know, it would have been nice to have one hit.
The pre-injury funk about going hitless. The post-injury elation that he almost got a hit. All recovery from brain injury is relative. Zach’s abilities to communicate, particularly to write, to recover so much function, to be able to pass as uninjured, are remarkable. But the “not quites” still leave a lingering shadow in Zach’s world.
In so many ways, the story of Zach is the story of an American teen, when hurt, now a maturing young man. The temptations that lead to his injury are experienced by the majority of teens. The challenges he faces today are not so dissimilar from those of his peers. Are there lessons to be learned with his recovery from brain injury beyond those that would inspire a half time speech? We hope so.
My interview of Zach about his recovery from brain injury:
You suffered a severe brain injury; is that correct?
Tell me what you know of what happened.
What happened to me was I was involved in a serious car accident on April 19, 2006. I was out drinking with some friends at a party. I was 17 years old and I got in a car and I drove. From what the police report says my car skidded. I fishtailed back and forth, then skidded a little bit, slid into the guardrail and hit the side of the guardrail, it rolled over several times and then I ended up like halfway up a tree. I guess I was thrown from the car. From there the state police came. They Life Flighted me, the helicopter landed right on the highway, picked me up and brought me to ICU, and I was in a coma for a month.
What was the date?
April 19, 2006.
So you would have been in a coma until sometime towards the end of May? Do you know what day it was that you came out of the coma?
What time of day did it happen?
1:00 or 2:00 in the morning.
So the 18th was the day you would have been out and partying with your friends, right?
Do you remember anything of the 18th?
I do. Actually what I remember is going 0 for 4 in a baseball game. I had a really high batting average, and I went 0 for 4 and that dropped my batting average to .466. I was trying to play Division 1 baseball, and I just remember being really bummed out about that.
I was like we need to go out and get this off my mind and go party and stuff. I was actually supposed to hang out with my girlfriend, but she made other plans so that fell through. So I was like well, whatever, I’m just going out, and I’m going to get drunk, real drunk.
This was your junior year?
Yeah, yeah. Mm hmm.
How old were you?
I was 17 in junior year.
So you went 0 for 4, and what did that take your average down to?
To .466, yeah.
So it had been about .500?
How many games had you played at this point, roughly?
We played like 7, I think.
So the accident’s at, at 1:30 in the morning. What is the closest thing in time that you remember to the accident, before the accident and your recovery from brain injury?
I remember we pre-gamed (started drinking) at one of my friend’s houses. It was a girl. I remember going there, and then, after that I remember actually going to the party itself. I saw my girlfriend at the time’s ex‑boyfriend, and we ended drinking together. He ended up giving me a lot of drinks that night. I just, I remember being at the party, but I don’t remember anything about the car, driving or anything like that.
Now, do you think your memory was flawed because of the head injury or because of the amount you had to drink?
The amount I had to drink. I would lean towards that, but I think both are factors.
Do you know what your blood alcohol content was?
In a bit more detail, tell me what you think happened in terms of the vehicle wreck itself.
My friend was actually following me – he was in the car behind me – and he said it looked like I fell asleep at the wheel. What I think could of happened is there’s like a half-mile marker sign for the exit, and then there is the exit itself? I think I took the half-mile and thought it was, I was drunk so I thought it was, mistook it as the exit, and I started veering off the road, and I obviously shouldn’t have been.
What happened to your car? Did you run into something head on?
No. I think, my car skidded, and the guardrail, like the beginning of the guardrail, I think I tore apart the guardrail. But then my car started sliding, and my side of the car hit the beginning of the guardrail and that caused me to flip a couple times.
Were you ejected?
Yeah, yeah. I, I assume I was. Yeah.
You weren’t wearing a seatbelt?
I think I was, but I don’t know what, cause I was in the car. I was getting thrown around all throughout the car so –