When Matt Bachand was rushed to Mass General in June 2012 after crashing his motorcycle, he faced an uncertain future. Doctors stopped his heavy bleeding, performed emergency brain surgery and cared for his multiple broken bones.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), severe TBI causes coma, disability and even death. It is a factor in one-third of all injury-related deaths.
Matt was in a coma for 24 hours after his accident. He spent 14 days at the Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit (Neuro ICU), where he underwent two major brain surgeries performed by Sameer Sheth, MD, PhD. In total, the self-employed diesel mechanic spent nearly one month in the hospital.
Most of the time, Matt couldn’t speak because he had a tube down his throat to help him breathe. So, he scribbled messages to nurses and doctors. “No one could understand anything I wrote, except Kelly,” says Matt, of his girlfriend, Kelly Connolly. “She never left my side.”
“Matt is unique in so many ways. Many patients do not recover as fully or as quickly,” says Dr. Edlow.
A Touching First Step in One TBI Recovery
Twenty days later, it was time to remove the tube. The first words out of Matt’s mouth were not a plea for water or food – he asked Kelly to marry him. “It was the first time I had heard his voice in 19 days,” Kelly says. “We were both exhausted, but it was the happiest moment.”
The accident paralyzed much of the left side of Matt’s body, including his arm, leg and face, but he has made remarkable progress over the past year. When he was released from Mass General, Matt spent five months in a rehabilitation facility where he worked with physical, occupational and speech therapists.
In August 2012, Matt took his first steps during a physical therapy appointment. “Matt was dedicated to rehabilitation,” says Brian Edlow, MD, a fellow in the Neuro ICU. “He pushed himself even though there were times when he was clearly in pain.”
“I’m stubborn, and that helped,” Matt says, laughing.
“I am so thankful that the Neuro ICU team saved my life,” says Matt. “They truly care about their patients.”
Although rehabilitation is important, TBI recovery is difficult to predict. “Recovery after severe TBI is highly variable,” explains Dr. Edlow. “Many patients with similar injuries never recover consciousness, much less the ability to have meaningful relationships.
“Matt is unique in so many ways,” Dr. Edlow adds. “Many patients do not recover as fully or as quickly.”
In December 2012, Matt returned home under 24/7 supervision. At that time, he used a wheelchair, but could stand on his own for short periods.
The couple credits the care Matt was given with helping him every step of the way. “Dr. Sheth is incredible. I am so thankful that he saved my life,” says Matt. “He and Brian truly care about their patients.” Kelly, who is a nurse, is grateful to the Mass General Neuro ICU nursing staff. “Nurses can make it or break it,” she says. “They were compassionate not only for Matt, but for me.”
Helping Other Patients with TBI Recovery
Suffering a major injury gave Matt a new outlook. “I appreciate life more and want to give back, give other people hope,” he says. Matt now serves as a mentor to other patients facing TBI recovery and is helping his former roommate with rehabilitation.
He is also participating in a research study led by Joe Giacino, PhD, a neuropsychologist at Mass General, and Dr. Edlow. Through their research, the doctors hope to better understand severe TBI. Matt was their first study participant. “I want to help doctors learn as much as they can about TBI recovery,” he says.
“This has been so challenging, physically and emotionally, but it has been life-changing in a positive way,” Matt explains. “If I had to do it all over again, I would.”
Today, after seven months of outpatient therapy, Matt walks with a cane. “I feel so much more independent,” he says. He continues to attend physical therapy and make progress. Therapists measure his strength, endurance and range of motion every week, and have yet to see a plateau.
Matt has a recumbent trike (a bike with three wheels) which allows he and Kelly to go bike riding outside together.
“We’re just living life as normally as we can,” says Matt. “We are lucky in so many ways.”