Back in the Game

tags: Center for Brain Injury Recovery Specialized Transition Program/Neurorehabilitation Day Hospital

By Laura Thornton

What happened to Ben the summer he was 8 was every parent’s nightmare: Biking back from the beach to his family’s vacation cottage, Ben was hit by a car. With extensive injuries to his body and brain, he was flown by helicopter to The Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he remained unresponsive for 23 days.

His parents, Dave and Joanne, and his brother and sister were beside themselves with worry. “When your child can’t respond to you,” Dave explains, “the fear of the unknown is relentless.”

About a month later, he was transferred to Kennedy Krieger Institute’s inpatient hospital. His eyes were open, but he couldn’t yet follow commands, says Dr. Stacy Suskauer, co-director of the Institute’s Center for Brain Injury Recovery, who oversaw Ben’s outpatient care at Kennedy Krieger.

Ben in the hospital after his accident.

Ben’s dedicated team of therapists, nurses and doctors got to work. Slowly, Ben regained consciousness. Before long, he could communicate through blinking—one blink for “yes,” two for “no.” One day, Ben’s dad told him an old joke Ben had found funny before the accident. “And he started laughing!” Dave said. “That’s when I knew things were going
to be OK.”

Another day, Ben’s therapist pointed to a photo of Ben’s dog and asked him the dog’s name. “Bear,” Ben answered, speaking for the first time since the accident. When Ben could finally sit up—and stay up—on his own without assistance, “there were tears streaming down Ben’s therapist’s face,” Dave remembers, “and Ben was sitting there with this feeling like, ‘I did it!’”

Ben's first day at Messiah College, where he manages the college's basketball team.

Ben’s family marveled at how hard his therapists worked just to get his pinky to move. “With that pinky, he could drive a wheelchair!” Dave thought. But soon, Ben started taking steps—a few at a time, and then he was off, walking across the therapy room with an enormous smile on his face. Ben kept thinking of his siblings—he wanted so much to get better so he could go home and be with them every day.

After Ben’s inpatient stay, he attended the Institute’s Specialized Transition Program, a neurorehabilitation day hospital, for seven months. Every weekday, he did several hours each of therapy and schoolwork. By the next fall, he’d rejoined his classmates at school—and his teammates on the basketball court. One day during a game, he took a shot and scored. The entire gym erupted in applause.

In high school, Ben started managing his school’s varsity basketball team. Now 19, Ben recently completed his first year at Messiah College, where he’s majoring in sports management and managing the college’s basketball team. “It’s exactly the sort of thing we always hoped he’d do,” Dave says.

“Throughout my recovery, everyone was always saying the same thing: ‘You’re going to make it—just trust yourself,’” Ben says. “They were right.”

Visit the Center for Brain Injury Recovery page to learn more about brain injury treatments offered at Kennedy Krieger.