Every year there are nearly three million traumatic brain injuries in the United States, but experts say there’s often one aspect of their rehab that’s often ignored.
Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, can cause numerous serious physical disabilities. That’s why rehabilitation often focuses there first, with patients relearning to walk, talk, and feed themselves.
What’s often lost is the damage done to the emotional and so-called executive decision making centers of the brain, which also need rehabilitation.
Jonathan Kreuter was living the dream. The Stuyvesant High School valedictorian had travelled the world and became a marketing director in Thailand for a large hotel chain until one night, his entire life changed.
“A car hit me and hit me very, very hard and not a regular car, not a truck… a ‘tuk tuk’,” he said.
A tuk tuk is Thailand’s motorized version of New York’s pedicabs. Jonathan sustained a TBI, and was in a coma for 12 days following emergency brain surgery. He was hospitalized for three months before flying back to a rehab center in Atlanta.
“I could not walk, talk, or do anything,” he said. “They put my arms, legs, neck, and stomach with locks against the bed because I was yelling to people ‘I need help, get away!’.”
Jonathan’s mom remembers he needed to relearn even the most basic functions.
“Talking, walking, sounds, you know… to eat, how to swallow, all these little things relearning everything,” Elena Kreuter said.
Little by little, those functions came back. There was something else about Kreuter, however, that changed.
“It was horrible, because he would be out of control and cursing everybody,” Elena said. “Doctors, nurses, daughter and friends. Not punching physically, but his voice was so violent.”
It wasn’t until Jonathan began to work with Dr. Laura Newman at the Lighthouse Guild that he learned the compensatory skills he needed to cope with his TBI.
“Brain injuries have a lot of mental health needs, and we’re experts at helping patients be able to cope with those mental health needs that come along with physical brain injuries,” she said. “We’re good at that.”
Jonathan can play the piano again and has recently taken up photography. The very grateful survivor has even had an exhibit of his work.
“I am alive and I am here, and every day is a beautiful day because I am here and all of you are here as well,” he said.