• Survivor or Caregiver

TBI One Love Survivor Erik Anderson

My name is Erik Anderson,

I'm a survivor of four hemorrhagic strokes and a severe concussion that took place in September of 2001 after I was in a work truck roll-over accident. This is what happened in the accident:

I went to work like any other typical weekday, but that day was a little different. I was assigned five turbines that were not in my section to help another crew get caught up theirs. I attended our weekly, Wednesday safety meeting and my partner Robert & I started off in our truck 875 to start the day. It would have been around 7:00 in the morning. I then made the choice not to operate in my section thinking Elliot would do it as he usually did and drove straight out to row 17 thinking we could get out of work early if everything went smoothly & was able to get the five turbines done by lunch, but little did I know I'd get out much earlier than I expected and it would be my last day without brain damage and my full field of vision.  

My partner and I were driving along row 17 on a road cut into a steep mountain side. I was looking up, out the windshield trying to see any turbines that were stopped and needed to be reset. Not giving my full attention to driving and driving directly into the sun, I drove off the road.  Things went dark as the truck started to role. My partner slammed against me, knocking the wind out of me and probably breaking four ribs on my left side. The rolling didn’t stop; over and over to no end it just kept rolling.

I wasn’t aware of what was happening, I knew I was in pain and the horrendous crunching sound of a tumbling truck was terrible. It took forever; the cab was full of dirt. I could see the sky then the ground over and over; then it stopped. I felt free from the noise and pounding as I was freely falling through the air as I was ejected. My partner Robert was ejected first and after he came to, he could still hear the truck rolling with me in it.

I woke up covered in dirt and weeds. Not knowing what just happened, but I knew I was in terrible pain and I could hardly breathe gasping for air with one lung collapsed. I couldn’t see very well, my eyes were full of dirt and my glasses were gone. I heard my partner above me yelling my name. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but the message was clear that we were hurt badly and needed medical attention. I checked myself out feeling what hurt and what didn’t, moving each leg and arm.

All the pain was centered around my chest with six broken ribs, punctured lung, concussion, and broken humorous. I got up and started the arduous climb up to my partner. I made it that far. Amazed that he had his cell phone and had enough service to call 911, but we were on the side of a remote mountain and could only tell them who we worked for. The call then dropped and I came up with the idea to go over to the closest big turbine to shut it down hoping that a coworker would notice it not running and find us as they came to reset it. 911 called our work asking about an accident, but no one knew about an accident. A call was put out on the radio to all crews. 875 was the only crew that didn’t respond. As we clambered over to the turbine both badly hurt. I would fall, get up, stop to breathe, and just kept going, falling, getting up.

We made it to the turbine. I finally gave out and fell to the ground. In unbearable pain I loudly yelled and moaned as my partner shut the turbine down. All I could do was just lie there moaning, staring up the center of this Vestas V-27 wind turbine; a tranquil lattice design.

It seemed to take forever before Elliot found us, not knowing how long it really took. He didn’t know what happened and thought I fell from the turbine, but had no reason to climb it. It was relayed over the radio that truck 875 was in a bad accident. The ambulance was already at the main operations headquarters and was directed where to go.

I’m still holding on as Elliot helps Robert with a head wound. The paramedics showed up when it finally set in what just happened and people were there to hear me. I started swearing and cussing to no end and fell into shock; it’s the maddest that I’ve ever been. The paramedics got me strapped down onto a backboard; one of the best feelings ever, I couldn’t move and it reduced a lot of the pain. As I was lifted and carried toward the ambulance I could see some of my coworkers; I thought I'd be back at work soon; now questioning whether I should’ve returned to work at all. I lost consciousness as I rode out in the ambulance.

 I was transported to Tehachapi hospital. They didn't know what to do, I was alive, but there was something much worse happening to me than all of the broken bones. They worked on me for like five hours installing a chest tube to drain my left collapsed lung. They did CT scans & X-rays, but came up with nothing. I was then transported by ambulance to KMC (Kern Medical Center) in Bakersfield. There the doctors figured out that I was having increased brain swelling from a ruptured carotid artery and blood clots of bone particles in my carotid artery. The area in the artery was in too tight of a bend to put a stint in and it became evident that I would need to be transported to a different hospital if I was ever to stand a chance at surviving. UCLA & Phoenix were the two options. UCLA was full & Phoenix was pretty far to travel. A state senator (Bill Thomas) owed the company that I worked for a favor and was able to make some phone calls and pull some strings to get me into UCLA medical center. I was basically put on life support medicated with my dad in a helicopter to UCLA.

Once I got there the prognosis for me wasn't good at all. I had over an 80% chance to die & would have some crippling brain damage if I survived.

Obviously I survived and came out of a coma after the September eleventh 2001 terrorist attacks. I was in UCLA medical center for two months and in a neurological rehabilitation center for eleven months after that. I made a strong recovery and wanted to go back to work, which I did, but couldn't drive on site, and working that type of job was difficult and frustrating. I ended up getting laid off about a year after I started along with the rest of the maintenance crew, as our service contract was sold to a different company. I went back to school and worked off and on for eight years before I realized I was struggling badly and couldn't support myself. I applied for disability through social security and got it in 2011.

I currently live with my Grandmother and do some care taking for her, while also volunteering for a local gleaning nonprofit business. I've worked hard to build my health and physical fitness. I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints in 2012 and have callings and responsibilities there that have helped me to realize that I can improve my symptoms and deficits through dedication and hard work. I work with a Neurological Movement Therapist weekly that shows me how to do body movements that stimulate different parts of my mind to help me improve; the movements are taken from Moshé Pinchas Feldenkrais; a well-known Israeli physicist and the founder of the Feldenkrais Method. After overcoming my fear of being in front of a group I found that I like public speaking in Church and have also joined a local public speaking and leadership group called the ABC toastmasters. I had a lot of social anxiety before I started going to Church, but after four years of faithfully attending Church and serving in callings I felt the need to challenge my social and physical skills.

Having never been an avid dancer in my life, I choose to learn how to dance at an Arthur Murray dance studio in Santa Rosa. It was really hard and overwhelming at first, but the environment is very nice and I continue to improve with persistence. I'm not employed now, other than doing work for friends in Church, but I'm exploring and developing my skills and talents and could see myself being a motivational speaker and helping others to build and develop their minds.

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