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Tom turned 38 on March 5, 2011 and a number of us gathered at his condo for a birthday party. The guest of honor was extremely excited. It was a day of thankfulness for all of us. It’s been over 5-1/2 years since Tom’s tragic accident.

What is truly amazing is how far Tom has come in that time. Ronnie and I arrived around 5 p.m. and many of the guests were already there. The birthday boy was seated at the dining room table. Tom and I entered into a conversation about numerous topics. I see Tom every day and the changes to him are subtle. I think back to his 37th birthday and we would not be having the conversation that we were having now. In the past, Tom’s participation amounted to saying “yes” of “no” but very little interaction. On this day, it was totally different. Tom responded to questions and asked questions of his own.

Tom was so excited about his birthday that he woke Lynda at 5:30 a.m. and started singing. “Happy Birthday to Me! Happy Birthday to Me!” He had Lynda roaring.

Tom continues to get his hyperbaric oxygen treatments in Mount Vernon, New York, and we are amazed at the progress that he has made since starting. He is on treatment 174 and I was asked recently by the doctor doing the study on Tom to list the changes that we have seen in Tom since starting hyperbaric oxygen therapy. I am including the list below for two reasons. One is to show how much has changed and secondly, to encourage people with traumatic brain injuries to seek out hyperbaric oxygen treatment. The amazing part about the changes in Tom is that he started this therapy late. He started four years after his accident. I only wish that we had found out about it sooner.

Event Before HBOT During HBOT
Awareness Not aware of his surroundings at all. Awareness has increased dramatically. There have been many specific occurrences that indicate how far he has come in this area. For example, one day last summer when walking from his condo to the car he commented how beautiful the weather was on that day.
Balance Difficulty maintaining balance with and without a walker Balance has improved dramatically. He can hold his balance while standing and can turn his head in both directions without losing balance. His physical therapists in pool therapy and vestibular therapy have seen great changes in his abilities.
Thinking Whenever asked about what he was thinking, all answers were the same, “My mind is a blank.” He thinks about many things including his wife, his friends, and his pre-accident activities. He doesn’t reply that his mind is a blank. He says that it never is anymore.
Initiation Spotty to non-existent. Only responded to emails and text messages. No initiation of new messages. Initiation of conversations or greetings has improved dramatically. Before HBOT, Tom would only acknowledge someone (and not always) if they talked to him first. He now says “Hello” and “Goodbye” and “Have a great day” or “Have a great weekend” without prompting.He also initiates emails and text messages.
Conversation Yes or No answers without any additional comments Tom participates much more in conversations. His uncle’s wife was very hesitant to be around Tom because she never knew what to say to him. This is also the situation with many of his friends. She told us at Thanksgiving that she is very comfortable with Tom now. She was amazed with how large a part of the tableside conversation came from Tom. One of wife’s relatives told us that she was uncomfortable around Tom because she never knew how to talk to him. Recently, she said that she is no longer uncomfortable and is amazed at how far he has come.He’s getting better at having a conversation with more than only 1 or 2 exchanges in a group setting. It’s complicated by his hearing loss and attention deficits but he seems to be compensating for them and is better able to hold a conversation. For example, there were 13 people at the dinner table and someone started talking about Seattle and Tom jumped into the conversation (unprompted) by telling everyone how he lived there for a couple of years and how much he enjoyed his time there.
Grocery Shopping Lynda would take a wheel chair for Tom and he barely participated. With his community skills therapist, Tom leaves his walker at the door and uses the cart to keep his balance. He picks items off the shelves and puts them in the cart.
Pool and Vestibular Therapy Tom walked in a pool with the assistance of a therapist. He was able to take short walks in the pool with little to no hands-on support from his therapist. He has moved to a pool with a treadmill and an underwater camera that provides real-time picture of his gait on a TV screen above the pool. Initially, he needed cues and helps to move apparatus in the pool. He now does it on his own and is able to navigate extremely well on the treadmill. He initially needed frequent tactile cues to lower his knees and keep his feet spread apart while walking. The amount of cues needed is significantly less and he is self-correcting his gait more by watching himself on the tv monitor. His original therapist, Rick, who hasn’t worked with Tom in approximately 6 months saw him recently and was impressed with the changes in Tom.
Tremors They were very persistent and occurred most of the time. Tremors are gone.
Ataxia Constant even while Tom is sleeping There have been periods of time where the Ataxia stops completely. These periods of time have become more frequent. They are evident when he is in the chamber and relaxed.
Frustration Very pronounced with verbal outbursts It has gotten progressive less and is almost completely gone.
Short Term Memory Non-existent Holding onto more things. Remembering people’s names after not seeing them for periods of time. Holding onto important information to him. Still has difficulty holding onto mundane, everyday things such as what therapy he had the previous day or what he had for dinner.
Eyes Could not get his right eye to the right of his midline. Goes past midline but still cannot go all the way to the right.
Walking Could walk without the walker with someone holding him. It took a lot of effort to control him. Walks without the walker with someone holding on. The effort is much less than before HBOT. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the hardest, he was a 9-10 before HBOT. Now, it is more like 3-4.
Telephone Could not talk on the phone. All conversations ended with “I can’t hear.” Hard-wired phones were better for him than cell phones. Successfully completes phone conversations with hard-wired phones and with cell phones. “I can’t hear” almost never happens anymore.

The remainder of his birthday party was great. We all ate and laughed and before we knew it was time to leave.

 

The best part of the night for Tom was opening presents. He gets extremely excited about it and was really happy with everything he received, especially a lovely card from Lynda. After reading it, Tom summed up everything for the terrific couple. He said, “After reading this card, I don’t need any gifts!” Go, Tom!

Tom’s birthday continues on March 6th with a trip to Atlantic City, one of Tom’s favorite places. We are so thankful that Tom has come as far as he has and we hope and pray that he comes back to us completely.

Tom is finding his way back and he is working extremely hard to do so. If you would like to send him birthday wishes, post them here and I will forward them to Tom.

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About Author

Herb Segars is a photographer who specializes in wildlife and marine subjects. He lives in Brick, New Jersey, USA with his wife, Veronica. Herb spends a great deal of time SCUBA diving and photographing in the nutrient rich Atlantic waters off his home state of New Jersey.


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