• Survivor or Caregiver

TBI One Love Survivor Austin Alcorn

Hello, my name is Ms. Ronda Alcorn. My son Austin sustained his TBI on February 6, 2006, at the age of 18.

Austin was on a road trip with friends headed to California.  About thirty minutes back on the road after eating a large breakfast, Austin fell asleep at the wheel of his car near Williams, AZ causing the car to drift from the pavement onto the dirt shoulder of the road.   One of the passengers in the car realized something was wrong when the car started feeling bumpy, looked up and saw Austin asleep with his head against the driver side window.   She hollered at Austin, waking him up.  Austin got the car veering back toward the road, but hit a soft spot near the pavement and the vehicle’s speed sent it flipping over seven times. 

An AZ DPS Officer, who was still parked on the side of the road, finishing up some paperwork from a recent stop had seen Austin’s car coming down the road.  After a few moments, the officer realized that the car had not passed him yet only to look up and see a cloud of dust.  He immediately called for help.

Meanwhile, five other vehicles also stopped to help. Two of the people from those cars were Marine EMTs who intubated Austin, who wasn’t breathing, at the crash site before paramedics arrived.  Austin was life flighted to Flagstaff Medical Center.  In addition to a severe traumatic brain injury, including a skull fracture from ear to ear, Austin sustained a broken neck, shattered elbow that required a screw to keep it in place, a thumb and hand that needed pins and a plate and a bleeding spleen. 

Austin spent three weeks in ICU in Flagstaff, “touch and go” the whole time.  Because the pressure pressing on Austin’s brain was so great, doctors put him in a full Pentobarbital coma.  Although helping initially, the pressure spiked again and Austin was put in a Pentobarbital coma as a “last shot” at bringing down the pressure and trying to save his life.  This time after titrating down the meds, the pressure stayed down and preparations were made to transport him to Phoenix in the hopes that he might be able to get to Barrow’s.

After a month at an acute recovery facility, Austin was transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital (Barrow’s) in-patient neurorehabilitation program for brain injury survivors, although he remained in a form of a coma. It wasn’t until one day in May, three months after the accident that Austin followed his first command, putting blocks into a jar.  

Although starting to awaken after being a “3” on the Glasgow Coma Scale (the lowest possible score), Austin could not do anything on his own at all, developed severe spasticity in his limbs, was on a feeding tube, and got down to 107 pounds.  

The long road of learning everything all over again began.  And when you hear someone say, “learning everything all over again – just like a baby learns” they aren’t kidding when it comes to brain injury.  Austin had to learn to hold his head up, sit up, literally move every inch of his body again.  It was like his body had been frozen and was thawing out. 

All of the firsts that have to be learned again – like learning to crawl before you can walk.  Learning how to make air move up through his vocal cords to make sound before he could learn to make letter sounds and form words.  Singing “hopefully” memorable catchy tunes like nursery rhymes and “Happy Birthday” trying to get those connections made in the brain with familiar songs.  Learning ABC’s remembering faces and putting the correct names to those faces etc.…..

Austin was discharged from Inpatient Neuro Rehab at the end of June and began his outpatient therapy at Barrow’s until January of 2007.  Then he started an all-day neurorehabilitation program at the Center for Transitional Neurorehabilitation (CTN).  Austin participated in some different levels of the program until February of 2010 which included a back to work program.

Today, Austin is a very happy healthy young man – just celebrating his 30thbirthday on April 1st.  He works about 22 hours a week doing accounts payable for a family owned air-conditioning business, Efficiency Mechanical in Gilbert AZ, and volunteers 4 hours per week at Dignity Health/Mercy Gilbert Medical Center.  Austin also helps other survivors as part of his volunteer work as a “Barrow Connector” through Dignity/St. Joseph’s/Barrow’s, as an “Athlete Ambassador” for Arizona Disabled Sports and as a Mentor for We’re MOVING FORWARD! an activity group for survivors of brain injury ages 18+ that was formed by Austin’s mom and two other moms who also have a son with a brain injury.

Although his life is different, he has learned new ways of having fun and getting out and enjoying life.  Austin enjoys cycling on his tadpole recumbent cycle – which he was able to obtain by getting a partial grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, rock climbing, yoga and working out at the Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center, and attending yearly special events like “SkiAble” through Arizona Disable Sports where he likes to ride on a snow ski bike and the “Day on the Lake” adaptive water sports program through the Barrow Connection where he kayaks, goes fishing, jet-ski’s, rides on a speed boat and a huge party boat, rides on an outrigger ski and his favorite – wake boarding!

Austin’s advice to others recovering from brain injury is known as the “TTTs”: Things Take Time and Think Things Through. 

“More rehab is better, because everyone needs rehab. If you constantly try to do better in some way, than you will be.”

Austin also recommends going to support groups for survivors and caretakers like the one he and his family attends that’s facilitated by the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona!

Thank you, for the opportunity to join this helpful Family!

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