• Survivor or Caregiver

TBI One Love Survivor James Burke

Hello, my name is James.

In 1993 I graduated from Penn State University wt a degree in Communications. Soon after this in February I had a very serious car accident, & concussion, after my car slid on ice. 

I left my car seeking help, which in retrospect was a mistake, because it was a cold winter night, and the only thing I was wearing was a windbreaker.  I tried to get back to the car, and began to feel tired, lost, and frightened. I thought if I sat down for a minute, I could recollect myself. I sat down in the snow and then passed out from my concussion. The State Police did a poor search of the area, and towed my car away. I wasn’t found until a driver-by saw me lying in the snow. He shook me, and said "are you alive?” I tried to respond, but no sound come out, and could only try to speak.

A Life Flight helicopter was dispatched. The ground crew, took my vitals, found me to be 20 degrees Celsius (about 68 degrees Fahrenheit), decided I was dead, and waived the copter off. Another technician felt a very faint pulse, and they decided to call for an ambulance. On the way to Lehigh Valley Trauma, my heart did completely stop beating. It took them about a half hour to rewarm me and restart my heart completely from the time of cardiac arrest. I was placed into a month long, drug induced coma, and family members were told to expect the worst. 

My Sister-In-Law, who was a school nurse, sensed that I was still inside my comatose body. She took a leave of absence from her job, and became my private nurse. She worked my joints, so they would not lock up during my coma. She also played me most of my cd’s through a portable player. Today I am even more of a fan of music, then I was prior to my accident. When I woke up from the coma, I could not speak. I wrote down on paper, that I felt like I was dreaming, probably an aftermath of the coma inducing drugs. The Rehab I was in was Mennonite & had religious pictures everywhere. While still in my wheelchair, I pointed to a picture on the wall of Jesus, and reached for my notepad and wrote “I know him”. Today I don’t belong to any religion, but I do have faith in a higher powwer.

I have learned that I am an anomaly. I do not know why I survived and am doing so well comparatively. It may have been the cold, my physical fitness, my age, my determination to improve, or a combination. Everything has become so much harder now for me to do. My disabilities are much like a stroke. I have left sided weakness, so I sometimes trip on uneven walkways. I also cannot play the guitar anymore, or type fast. I have (dysarthia). It is a blanket term. It simply means that I cannot speak clearly, especially when talking fast or trying to say larger words. I still have some problems remembering names, places, and appointments. Still my memory has improved much more then anyone could have expected.

It has been a struggle, since the day when I first awoke from my coma. I am alive to prove every doctor wrong, who falsely says that hypoxia means death. Do not ever listen to a physicians negative prognosis. Go with your gut feeling. It is usually right. Oh and about my love for music, I was just given a Ukulele, and although I’ll have some trouble fretting, It will be great therapy for my left hand!

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