Riding For Resilience To Help Others After TBI

Robert Gray
Riding For Resilience To Help Others After TBI

It has been six years since the accident that caused my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and as my recovery continues, I feel very fortunate. Whenever serious injuries occur, our lives will change, but sometimes these changes might result in more gains than losses. Recovery from a TBI involves personal commitment and a tremendous amount of time, along with contributions from family and friends. The most important part in most of these cases begins with caregivers – whom I consider angels.

Before moving to Texas, I spent thirty years with the Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD), a job that involved many significant calls. During my career, I responded to a number of major incidents including the La Plata, Maryland Tornado, Hurricane Katrina, and the response to the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. In 1998, I led a program to plan, address, and support fire department personnel who were dealing with stress, a program that involved enhancing behavioral health programs within the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This work proved particularly critical in assisting Fire Department members during and after the response to the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

Shortly after 2001, the Critical Incident Stress Management program transitioned into a highly specialized Traumatic Experience Recovery Program (TERP), and I co-led the transition with Dodie Gill (President/CEO New Millennium and former ACFD EAP Director). My long career in the fire department ended on this high note with a program that would help other first responders far into the future, and that was a rewarding feeling.

Shortly after retiring from the fire department, I was working in my house, cleaning dust from a high point in our foyer. I climbed a sixteen-foot ladder, certainly not the tallest I have ever ascended. Being athletic, climbing was one of the things I loved most about my job.

This time I fell.

The fall caused a traumatic brain injury—a severe one. It’s always seemed like a cruel and funny kind of irony that someone like me would fall off a ladder!

After major brain surgery, I spent several weeks in a coma and about two months recovering at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas. Because of my injuries, I faced many challenges including memory loss, partial paralysis, and the loss of my ability to walk and talk.

Doctors performed a craniectomy to relieve brain swelling, and when they replaced my bone flap, my scalp developed an infection that kept recurring. Repeated surgical attempts to fix the problem only made it worse, so after several years, my wife and I made the decision to remove my natural skull piece and go with a prosthetic. Since my last surgery, I have been working hard on my recovery.

Thankfully, I have always been very active. One of the most important parts of my life involves cycling, and the doctors mentioned that my level of fitness at the time of my TBI played a vital role in my survival. Cycling has always been part of my physical fitness program and a form of therapy. My Merlin bicycle, which I purchased on September 11, 2003, helped me cycle through painful memories from the 9/11 experience and was there to help me in my recovery after my TBI. I recently took up track cycling at the Frisco Velodrome. I enjoy it so much that I am also volunteering at the track.

I owe my good outcome to a quick response by first responders, to doctors and rehabilitation services, to my wife, and to my bike, since it rewarded me with a level of fitness at the time of my injury that enabled me to recover.

My TBI has helped me find new ways to help others. I am very fortunate to have a supportive family and to have found opportunities to interact and reach out to others through my involvement with organizations like Project Rebirth and Project Hero. Going forward, my focus is to find ways to help others who have suffered TBIs.

This April, I will be participating in the Project Hero Texas Challenge, a six-day ride that goes from San Antonio, TX to Houston, TX. I am really looking forward to this because it’s the tenth Challenge I’ve done with this organization. Project Hero (Formerly, Ride 2 Recovery) uses cycling to help veterans recover. They hold rides across the country.

Exercise is incredibly important to those recovering from physical and emotional health challenges and riding with this group has been an important part of my recovery. It has also provided me with the opportunity to interact with other first responders and military members recovering from TBI’s, PTSD and other traumatic experiences.

My personal motto is “Never give up.” There are reasons that things happen, although it is sometimes hard to imagine why. Recovering from a setback like a TBI is not easy. I believe that finding ways to accept the changes in your life, sharing your story with others, and using counseling are important tools in finding a path forward.

About the Author

Bob currently volunteers at the Superdrome in Frisco, TX, with Project Rebirth and with Project Hero. He is focusing on helping others who have suffered TBIs. You can learn more about these organizations here:

Posted on BrainLine March 29, 2017

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