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Unexpected output: how Mike learned a new code for life after brain injury

The Learning Corp | Sep 30, 2019 | Traumatic brain injury

What does a software engineer who loves the precision and predictability of coding do when his life is upended by a chance fall in the shower? The answer, according to traumatic brain injury survivor Mike Healey, is to adapt to a life with a “new normal” – full of unpredictability, highs and lows, and often more questions than answers.

“I actually love dealing with technology because it’s a known quantity to me in that I know how something will act based on how I write the code. It’ll always be the same every time.”

A fast-paced life in the world of tech start-ups comes to an abrupt halt with a fall in the shower

Mike was a driven software developer and self-described “techie” who guided several tech start-ups to success over a number of years, including helping to sell one computational intelligence company to IBM. As he describes it, “I would go to work on a Monday and come home on a Wednesday because I forgot what day it was, I was so focused on work.”

Along the way, he met his wife Julie and together they fixed up a house on a hill, surrounded by memorabilia of their travels around the world, and frequently filled with friends and their cat, Pepper.

Then one day it all changed.

“I went into the shower to get ready for work. The floor got slippery with soap, and I slipped and fell and banged the left side of my head,” is how Mike describes what happened that day. “I felt like a fool for just slipping on soap because I don’t normally do clumsy things.”

>> Watch the video of Mike’s remarkable story. 

Mike survives a dangerous brain injury but can’t accept that life has changed… at first

Not realizing the extent of his injury, Mike worked his normal 10-hour day. At home that night, he skipped dinner and went to bed, complaining to Julie of a blinding headache. The next thing he knew, he woke up in the ICU diagnosed with a subdural hematoma. A highly dangerous injury, a subdural hematoma is caused by a head injury strong enough to burst blood vessels, which makes pooled blood push on the brain and cause damage. Ever the workaholic, Mike’s biggest concern when he regained consciousness was making sure Julie called his boss to tell him he wasn’t coming into work.

After a week in the ICU and a stint in a rehabilitation hospital, Mike came home. At first, he couldn’t accept the fact that the accident had happened. “I’m me. I’m alive. I can do everything I used to do,” he told everyone. But in fact, nothing was the same. He had left-side paralysis, Parkinson’s-like tremors, optic neuropathy, a severe bend in his left hand, short term memory loss, and other cognitive difficulties associated with traumatic brain injury. Daily activities that were once easy became difficult or impossible. He felt unbelievably frustrated with life and with himself. Something had to change. 

A new normal starts with self-forgiveness

With the help of his wife, slowly but surely Mike began to accept his new normal. The first thing he did was to forgive himself for slipping in the shower. “It could happen to anyone,” he now says. He and Julie next developed tools like lists and calendars to help him get into a daily routine. He discovered Constant Therapy and began to use the app’s science-based cognitive exercises to help recover his short term memory and address attention issues. 

“Constant Therapy was challenging for me and it pushed mental boundaries that I wasn’t exercising. There’s exercises for every part of the body except the brain and what I found with Constant Therapy is that it’s a way to exercise the brain.”

He also joined online support groups for survivors of traumatic brain injury which helped him to feel less alone. “These groups show that you’re not alone in the world. There are other people and you can help them just by listening or they can help you just by listening. And that became very important to me,” he says.

“My life today is significantly different than it was.”

Mike was an admitted overachiever but says he’s not that way anymore. There is lots of unpredictability in his life and questions about what comes next. But he’s positive about it. “Life has slowed down for me but in a good way — in that I’m able to give importance to what needs to be important, meaning my relationship with my wife, taking care of the cat, doing the Mason’s work, gardening, and doing other stuff around the house that is within my capabilities.” MIke’s advice to others recovering from traumatic brain injury? “You’re not alone. There’s always hope. But you have to go out and find it.”

>> Watch the video of Mike’s remarkable story.

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