What was your life like before your injury?
John was born in Fort Knox Kentucky on May 4, 1959. Growing up he moved to many different states because of his father’s service in the military. The majority of his childhood was spent in San Antonio Texas, where he had many good friends that he “remembers with his heart”. In ninth grade, John and his family moved to San Diego California, but shortly after moved to Poway California, just north of San Diego. Here, John learned Spanish in class and finished high school. This language is something John keeps very close to his heart. Another class in high school that John took interest in was a landscaping and plant class.
In college, John majored in ornamental horticulture. He traveled for study in New Zealand for a year, where he made his way to Australia and hitchhiked around the island for 2 weeks! He also was able to make many friends and immerse himself in the Maori culture. After graduation, his roommate contacted him about coming to Oregon to work at a plant nursery. John interviewed, got the job, and moved to Forest Grove, Oregon soon after finishing college. At the nursery, he worked his way up from the irrigation department to being the general manager. At this job, he was able to travel to different locations and help other managers get organized. The CEO of the business told him he was one of the best at setting up meetings.
In his daughter’s senior year of high school, he was approached by one of her friends working on a senior project. She asked John if he would be willing to start coaching a multicultural soccer team. John of course said yes. The team was very good, and John personally worked hard to keep team member costs low so that everyone could participate.
One thing abundantly clear from talking with John is the amount of love he has for everyone around him. While working at the Hines Nursery, John coached girls’ and boys’ soccer and baseball. He recalls it being an amazing time, and he “still holds all the athletes in his heart today”. He even sees some of them around town and always says hi.
Tell me about your accident. May 29, 2009
One day John was with some Cycle Oregon friends on a bike ride to Mount Hood, trying to get to a Lost Lake, but after scaling the mountain they realized the snow was impossible to ride through.The group turned around and began heading down the mountain. John and all of his friends were chatting and having fun. John was wearing a helmet, and was riding a little farther ahead from the group. As he turned a corner, he slipped on what he presumes to have been a tree branch that he didn’t see. He landed on the left side of his body, broke all of his ribs, and punctured his lung. He was unconscious for around 4 minutes, when, as John describes it, his brain told his lung to BREATHE. He awoke still on the mountain, now with his friends all surrounding him. Because of the group’s location, they could not get a signal to call for help. John tried to stand back up, but his friends told him to rest. A farmer nearby had seen them and offered to help bring John into town. The ambulance was waiting for them in the town, but it took over 3 hours for the ambulance to get from the small town to Hood River. He was then life-flighted to Emanuel Hospital, where he went into surgery to remove a piece of his skull to help with brain swelling. Afterward, he was put into a medically induced coma for 3 weeks.
What was your recovery like?
John stayed in the hospital for around 3 months. When he awoke from the coma, his first words were Spanish. During his stay, he had many grand mal seizures, and doctors had to work very hard to save his life. John’s TBI resulted in aphasia.
After getting out of the hospital, John went to BIRC (Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center) in Portland. He went 5 days a week from 9 a.m to 4:30 p.m. His rehabilitation focused on Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy. He had trouble with the English language, but his Spanish was still intact.
His therapists helped him to realize that many of his abilities before the accident were still attainable. His Occupational Therapist in particular helped him to find new passions. John volunteered at an elementary school, a library, and a women’s nonprofit called Adelante Mujeres. One challenge John recalls overcoming was when he began helping in the library. His task was to organize the Spanish language books in alphabetical order, but his brain was struggling to remember the order. His Occupational Therapist and the library staff helped him by making a “cheat sheet” that he could reference when doing his job. John said he would even study the sheet at home so he could learn it faster! John’s Occupational Therapists supported him by driving him to and from volunteer appointments, as well as communicating with staff about John’s skillset. Another one of John’s struggles was reading words. He worked with Speech Therapists to regain this skill and saw improvements after just 3 weeks. The Occupational Therapists also taught him how to use public transportation, which helped John be more independent.
When it was finally time for John to leave BIRC, the staff met with him and gave him encouraging words and advice. He was told that his effort and positive attitude were amazing. The psychiatrist also told him that he learned a thing or two from John.
John has learned many skills to make his understanding of the world better. One skill he learned to help him with his aphasia is to “give hints” about the words he is having trouble finding. John refers to this skill as a game he plays so the people he talks to can better understand what he is trying to say.
What was your social life like after?
After “graduating” from BIRC, John tried to return to his general manager job but was let go due to him being a potential liability. The staff was worried about him having a grand mal seizure at work, and although this never happened, the decision was final.
John’s marriage also ended soon after getting out of the hospital. He realized his marriage didn’t feel the same. His wife and her girlfriend talked to John and explained that they were in love. John, while hurt from losing his 25-year-long happy marriage, told them that he will always have love in his heart for the both of them. John was alone (romantically) for a while after that, but soon met and married his wife, after being friends for around 3 years. They were married for over 6 years until she passed away.
John finds it hard to make decisions and prioritize and avoid distraction, but he still “has happiness”. Some of his happiness comes from his family and friends. He still has weekly dinners with his ex-wife and each of his family members. He also spends time with his son and will visit his daughter over Thanksgiving in Missoula.
What are your hobbies?
John doesn’t want to be held back by his injury and works to focus on the things he can do. He still loves to garden, play piano and walk his dog. He also gives speeches to programs at Pacific University such as their Speech Pathology Department and Occupational Therapy department. He shares his experience and allows students to learn from him and ask questions.
What was the hardest part socially?
John says the hardest part was the lack of full independence. He could no longer drive after his accident and was not working either. The transition from being married to not was also a difficult transition because he was losing things familiar to him.
What accomplishments have you achieved?
Happiness. John never lost his happy, kind heart. Some of John’s accomplishments include being a coach, volunteer, and a friend. He impacts the lives he meets by sharing a positive perspective on everything.
What advice would you give to someone living with a brain injury?
Don’t give up, even when you feel like giving up. Remember what you were doing before the injury and focus on the skills you still have. Work to reach attainable goals and don’t be afraid to ask family and friends questions. Seek therapy and support! Persevere! Be determined! Choose happiness! Don’t be afraid! Remember what makes you happy!
“My favorite/happy life is to keep volunteering and helping. At the local market (setting up and taking down) volunteering at elementary schools, giving my love, remembering that I feel love everywhere in the world.”
Submitted by: Anelia