He was transported by helicopter to the nearest trauma center in Joplin, Missouri, where he spent nine days in a coma. Brett had suffered a subdural hematoma from landing on his head. Blood was pooling on the outside of his brain, causing his brain to swell. To create space and to remove the blood, the trauma team in Joplin removed a part of Brett’s skull. Once he was stabilized, his family requested he be transported to Stanford Hospital, where he could continue to be treated closer to home.
“Any patient who suffers a traumatic brain injury who comes into the Stanford system will have some interaction with myself or my colleague in trauma,” said Odette Harris, MD, MPH, neurosurgeon at Stanford Health Care. Brett spent eight days in the ICU, where a team of trauma and brain injury specialists managed his inter-cranial pressure, blood pressure, temperature and seizures to minimize the cascade of secondary injuries that can occur after a traumatic brain injury.
“Once we get patients through that period of survival, then we start looking at the period of recovery and rehabilitation,” said Dr. Harris. She wanted him to regain the weight and strength he’d lost after the accident before surgery to repair his skull. He spent six weeks in a rehabilitation unit at Santa Clara Valley Medical. There, he put on weight, began walking and talking and regained his short-term memory. With his body strong enough for surgery, Brett returned to Stanford. In the first of four surgeries, Dr. Harris used a bone implant to replace the section of his skull that was removed after the accident. Subsequent surgeries were done to manage his surgical wound healing, and to create a skin flap to cover his skull.
An avid cyclist before his accident, Brett made exercise an integral part of his ongoing recovery. He clocked his steps, the miles he rode on his stationary bicycle, his sleep, and shared his daily progress with Dr. Harris, who encouraged his holistic approach to recovery.
“I wanted her to know I was committed to doing the physical things ecessary to keep my body in shape to recover,” he said.
The accident’s impact to the right side of his brain affected his ability to control the left side of his body. He was also experiencing minor seizures. Scheherazade Le, MD, a Stanford Health Care neurologist specializing in epilepsy and seizure disorders, supported him through the neurologic recovery from the traumatic brain injury.
“Brett was determined to make exercise a part of his daily routine, and I think that helped strengthen his recovery and brain function,” said Dr. Le. He also stays active socially, meeting friends and colleagues for coffee or lunch nearly every day, and sharing his recovery experience with other TBI patients and Stanford neurology and neurosurgery residents. “His story is so inspiring and gives so much hope to me as a doctor and to other patients who need intense neurologic recovery.”
“The Stanford environment allows someone like Brett to truly recover in a way that’s tailored to what he needs,” said Dr. Harris. “We’re integrating not only brain injury specialists, but we’re integrating trauma specialists, specialists in orthopedics, specialists in ENT, and plastic surgery. Because of the integrated care we have, Brett has just excelled.”
Six years later, Brett remains active. “I really feel like I’ve pulled through it the best I possibly could,” said Brett, who walks between 40 and 70 miles every week. “At Stanford, the whole team was great at making sure the right things happened for me to have the amazingly good recovery I’ve had so far.”