Recovering from Brain Injury is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Patient Experience

Mar 22, 2017

On January 3, 2016, Devon Unterbrink was in a single car accident with a tree. Not only was Devon broken and bleeding in multiple places, including his brain, he also tore his carotid artery and had suffered a stroke paralyzing his right side. As the trauma team worked to revive him, Devon’s chances for recovery looked hopeless.

With one part miracle and one part clinical expertise, Devon survived. By the fourth day, his vital signs had finally stabilized. His parents, Don and Jeanie, were told the “fatal window” had passed, but what they were seeing at that point would likely be the best they could expect. Devon spent 21 days in the ICU as his clinical team continued to care for his multiple injuries. He was then transferred to a specialty hospital where he could receive ongoing medical treatments to allow his body to stabilize. It was there that Devon began to open his eyes. With this encouraging sign, his physician recommended Brooks Rehabilitation in Jacksonville, Fla. to continue his care.

A little over a month had passed since the accident when Devon was transferred from Orlando to Jacksonville. At this point, he was in a minimally conscious state. He could track objects with his eyes but could not communicate in any way. His left arm and leg were able to move, but there was little to no movement on the right side. Throughout his journey, Devon’s family learned to take comfort in small gestures. Seeing Devon dressed in actual clothes again was thrilling. He received a wheelchair and was taken out of his room for hours each day for physical, occupational and speech therapies.

After two weeks, Devon was “walking” with help from several therapists and specialized equipment with harnesses to keep him from falling. However, at their weekly team conference meeting, Don and Jeanie were told the therapy Devon was receiving would be more beneficial if he “emerged” from his minimally conscious state so he was able to participate more. It was recommended that his parents prepare to take Devon home until he emerged and could return to Brooks.

Devon had other plans. Less than 24 hours later, he began talking during his speech therapy session. He repeated words and answered a few questions. The answers weren’t always correct, but they were still music to his parents’ ears.

Instead of being discharged on March 10, Devon was able to continue his therapies until March 30. Devon’s speech was improving and he was getting stronger day by day. He began working on simple math problems and could play card games with his therapists. His parents worked on teaching him simple things he’d forgotten, like how to smile and laugh again.

Once Devon returned home, he received home health care for most of April. He and his family needed time to adjust to their new reality. Devon progressed to his “new school” – outpatient physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions. There he continued to improve at an amazing rate. In fact, the therapists had to re-write their 12-week achievement goals because Devon was already surpassing them.

By August, Devon was discharged from outpatient rehabilitation.He was now ready for the Brooks Neuro Day Treatment Program. Monday through Friday from September through December, he participated in physical, occupational and speech therapies with a heavy emphasis on cognitive therapy. He also enjoyed group sessions where he interacted and engaged in conversation with others dealing with the effects of brain injury.

Now back in Orlando, Devon helps with household chores and runs daily errands with his dad. He recently joined three of his buddies for Wing Night. This was a weekly outing they had enjoyed before the accident and they are finally able to resume their routine.

Devon’s short term memory continues to improve. To compensate in the meantime, he’s learning to use his phone for reminders and has numerous “brain” apps on his iPad. He continues outpatient speech therapy and just began attending the Brain Injury Wellness Program. Devon hopes to get an engineering degree one day so he can design roller coasters for Universal Studios. No doubt, this past year has been quite a roller coaster ride for Devon and his parents.

“From day one we were told this is a marathon,not a sprint. That didn’t make sense to us at first but now it does,” said Jeanie. “It has, however, been a privilege to be on this journey with Devon. He is AMAZING!”

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