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Back on Track: After a traumatic brain injury, Matthew Ponder wanted to run competitively again. He achieved that and so much more, says his mother, Tamika.

Wynn, Paul

doi: 10.1097/01.NNN.0000511234.27692.e0
Departments: The Waiting Room

Readers Like Me: A traumatic brain injury doesn't keep Matthew Ponder down.

“On June 30, 2014, I experienced a mother's worst nightmare. I received a call telling me that my youngest son, Matthew, who was 16 at the time, was in a serious car accident. He had lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a tree, and was being airlifted to the local trauma center. His high school friend and track mate, who was also in the car, was rushed to a separate trauma center.

As soon as I arrived at the center, I learned that Matthew had sustained extensive trauma to several areas of his brain. Multiple computed tomography (CT) scans revealed bilateral frontal lobe bruising and ruptured blood vessels that were causing serious swelling. He was in an induced coma for two weeks.

With each passing day, I wondered who would wake from the coma—my easy-going, confident, likeable son, who believed he could do everything, or someone I wouldn't recognize? I vowed to quit my job, return my car, and adjust my budget so I could stay home and care for him. The more I researched traumatic brain injury (TBI), the harder I prayed.



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When he first awoke from his coma, Matthew couldn't walk or talk. He immediately started daily therapy to relearn both. A week later, he was transferred to a larger hospital that specializes in brain injuries. When he was being admitted, Matthew was asked what he wanted to work on. He said, “running.” That was the first sign that the “old” Matthew was still in there. I knew how important being on the track team was to him, and this goal gave me hope.

The hospital assigned him a physical therapist who specialized in running, and his track coach, who also is a full-time respiratory therapist, visited him every day to help him return to running. After two months of rehabilitation, Matthew's medical team said he could return home to live with me and his older brother, James, who was very supportive during the recovery.

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Matthew's return to high school was rough. His walking was better, but his balance was off. Worried about making people feel awkward or sorry for him, he overcompensated for his deficits. He didn't take adequate breaks when he got tired or ask for more time to complete his tests and homework assignments. He was so exhausted at the end of every day, he would go straight to sleep after coming home from school.

He started getting headaches from all the stress. He was also having partial seizures [which affect one part of the brain and don't result in loss of consciousness], which I didn't know about until he had a full-blown [convulsive] seizure about 10 months after the accident. He was prescribed [the anticonvulsant] levetiracetam (Keppra) by his neurologist, which helped control the seizures. In hindsight, I should have sent him back to school for half days instead of full days because the full-day schedule was overwhelming for him.

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Many of Matthew's friends didn't understand what was going on with him and drifted away. His girlfriend broke up with him. Worse yet, many of his teachers were unsympathetic. They kept comparing the post-accident Matthew to the pre-accident Matthew. It was hard for him to focus in class, which frustrated his teachers. With the exception of a scar above his right eye from the crushed windshield glass, he appeared fine from the outside. But on the inside, he was struggling.

Thankfully, Matthew never despaired. Using his quiet confidence and inner strength, he was able to return to the track by November and begin competing in races. He also joined a local support group for people with traumatic brain injuries, called the Brain Injury Peer Visitor Association ( Initially a visitor, Matthew valued the support so much that he became a volunteer himself.

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Matthew will always have to avoid certain things. For instance, it's not safe for him to play sports like baseball, basketball, and football, which he loves. And although his intellect is sharp, he still has memory lapses.

In spite of this, his future looks positive. His seizures are controlled by medication, so he was able to attend his senior prom and even drive himself. He made the senior honor list for 2016 and graduated from high school. He is studying biology at Kennesaw State University, which has a wonderful program for students with disabilities. Prior to the accident, Matthew was interested in obtaining an engineering degree, but he now wants to go into the medical field.

There are no words to describe just how proud I am of Matthew. He has always been a fighter, a trait that has helped him recover. From this experience, we have learned to never give up, to always remain hopeful, and to support one another through the tough times, because tough times are necessary for growth.” —As told to Paul Wynn

© 2016 American Academy of Neurology