Transcending Brain Injuries: a Love Story

Patient Experience

Mar 13, 2015

young Tony BravoKim Bravo had great visit with her sister and brother-in-law in California, but it was time for her to return home and get ready for nursing school in the fall. Kim doesn’t remember exactly what caused her to freeze on the tarmac of the airport, but she couldn’t move. Something had stopped her with the force of a brick wall and she couldn’t bring herself to get on the plane.

The force she felt was undoubtedly fate.  The very next day, Kim met Tony Bravo at a Navy picnic she attended.

A roaring car engine caught Kim’s attention; time slowed as she watched a brand new, fire-red Trans Am wind through the park. She continued to watch as a tall, dark, handsome man exited the car, and began walking towards them. After proper introductions were made, a lively party ensued. Kim volunteered to drive Tony’s car home because he had been drinking. Intoxicated, Tony persistently pursued Kim as they drove and even asked her to marry him. “If you ask me again when you are sober, you’ve got a deal.”

Kim eventually returned home to Indiana but she and Tony continued to write one another for a year before Tony came to visit. While there, he asked Kim to marry him again, only this time he was sober and leaving for a three year tour in Spain in a couple of days.

“If you ask me again when you are sober, you’ve got a deal.”

Fate once again stepped in and a snowstorm prevented Tony from leaving.  They were married three days later and the Bravos have been inseparable ever since.

Brain injury survivor tony bravo with familyOnce back stateside, life began to settle for the Bravos who were raising a family in Jacksonville. They spent many years in a blissful marriage, with more love than either of them had ever known. “Every marriage has its ups and downs,” Kim said. “But we have never cracked the foundation of love, trust, and faith in one another, never.” 

Unfortunately, all the love in the world could not change what happened next.  In October 2010, Tony, an avid cyclist, fell off his bike while riding with friends. Tony slid across the pavement. His head bounced off the road three times, cracking his helmet. He was rushed to the emergency room with a severe brain injury in addition to multiple fractures.

Initial reports from doctors were not optimistic. They said that Tony, would never wake up, walk, or talk again and that it was highly likely his whole right side would be paralyzed.

Kim wouldn’t accept this, “He is the love of my life and my gorgeous husband loves a challenge. I would crawl with him if I had to, however God wants it.”

Fate struck again.  As emails of support and encouragement poured in, one email in particular caught Kim’s attention. It was from a Brooks clinician and fellow cyclist, Dr. Harry Koslowski. He had followed Tony’s story online and was interested in helping in any way possible. He determined after one visit that he would truly benefit from the programs at Brooks. He determined that Tony could wake up. 

Tony BravoTony Bravoundefined

Following advice from Dr. Koslowski, Kim started to stimulate Tony’s right side, incessantly pinching him until Tony swatted her hand away.  His first movement since the accident.  A week later he was transferred to Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital.

At this point, Tony didn’t remember his wife or his three daughters.  He recognized Kim in pictures from years ago but couldn’t piece together that the Kim in the photos and the Kim by his side were the same person.  As therapists were working on Tony’s mobility, Kim read him love letters the two had written to each other throughout his time in the Navy. She hoped that the letters would stimulate his memory and help him with language.

“His language comes and goes, he seems to pull words from everywhere, and yet he seems to have real moments of clarity,” Kim said. One evening she sat by his bed reading Tony a letter that she had written years earlier. She began to reflect on her relationship with her husband and the challenges they would have to overcome. She remembers saying she felt broken, and began to cry. Unexpectedly, Tony pulled his wife in close and said, “I’m right here for you, you’re not broken.”

tony dancing with daughterSince leaving Brooks in December of 2010, Tony has celebrated so many wins throughout his recovery. He gave away his daughter at her wedding and danced with her during the father daughter dance. Kim worked with him for months to practice the words, and took him to dance classes to help with his coordination and balance. He began cooking again using just his sense of smell. With the help of Kim, his therapists and friends, Tony’s balance has improved and he is riding again.  Since his injury, Tony has completed three MS-150 cycling events and plans to complete his fourth this year.

“His language comes and goes, he seems to pull words from everywhere, and yet he seems to have real moments of clarity,”

Tony and Kim are celebrating 39 total years of marriage this year, but Kim separates it into before and after the accident. “Four and half years ago, the man I married went to sleep and my husband woke up,” she says. “I am blessed beyond measure, he is still in my life and I will continue to love him through- that’s what marriage is, a union.”

Each day brings a new challenge for Tony and Kim. Some days Tony doesn’t remember much at all and others, bits and pieces of his life begin to unscramble and make sense to him. “Brain trauma is not a static event, it is a process in evolution and there is no one in the entire world that can say with absolute certainty what a brain injury patient can do- not all brain trauma is the same,” said Kim. “Every day we start over, we begin again.”

Tony and Kim at HomeThe definition of love has changed for Kim over and over again the past few years.

“I am blessed beyond measure, he is still in my life and I will continue to love him through; that’s what marriage is, a union.”

“Love isn’t just saying ‘I Love you”, and it’s not in gifts or jewelry or presents.  Love for me was having the privilege of watching his chest rise and fall, knowing he is still breathing.  Love for me is listening to his heart beat and hearing him snore.  Love for me is holding his hand and realizing it wasn’t just to help him balance on his weakened side. Love for me was listening to him talk about ‘fuzzy memories of me, hiding his sorrow and wanting to just hold him and make it better.

Love for me is about time; the seconds, the minutes, the hours when I can hear him laugh, talk, whisper and say anything.  Love, for me, is about knowing we are going to rebuild as much as we can and make new memories, new ideas of what love is, second by second, day by day.”

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