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Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Tony’s Story

Twenty years ago, Tony Gorham Jr. relocated to North Carolina from New York to earn a degree in sociology and law at East Carolina University. Over those carefree college years, Tony fell in love with the area and decided to become a North Carolina transplant, building a successful career and fathering two precious daughters.

A Fair Accident

In October 2013, life threw him a curveball while attending the state fair. A defective ride that had passed safety inspection forced unharnessed riders on a deadly and unforgettable replay. At the end of the ride, the operator hit a switch to stop it and release safety harnesses. The ride stopped and harnesses came up; however, faulty wiring caused the ride to immediately restart. Riders grasped seats and safety straps, screaming in horror and struggling to hold on until the force of movement ejected them off of the ride. Tony lost his hold on the ride from its highest point and was thrown further into the air about three to four stories high. He came down from that height and with blunt force trauma, landed on his head and wrist.

Tony was immediately rushed to the WakeMed Raleigh Campus Emergency Department where he received life-saving trauma care in Wake County’s only Level 1 Trauma Center. He remained in a coma for a month. Upon waking, clinicians found the trauma to his brain was severe and particularly localized to his frontal lobe: his memory, thinking skills and balance were all affected. His left side was paralyzed. He also lost his sense of smell and his vision in his left eye.

WakeMed Brain Injury Services

For Tony and others who suffer a traumatic brain injury, WakeMed Rehab provides integrated, comprehensive delivery of rehabilitation services. Through our Brain Injury Rehabilitation System (BIRS) program, our treatment teams collaborate across clinical specialties to evaluate the patient’s impairments, activity and participation limitations to determine rehab needs and potential for functional improvement. Learn more about BIRS.

With limited tolerance for activity in the early stages, rehab teams — including Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapists as well as Neuropsychologists, Clinical Case Managers and Therapeutic Recreational Specialists — maximize what they can do to help restore the patient’s functional abilities. Nurses also play a vital role because they are constantly at the bedside of the patient and act as both advocate and support for family members.

Inpatient and Outpatient Rehabilitation

Tony went to inpatient and outpatient rehab and within two months of his accident (December 2013) was able to see real progress towards recovery. By January 2014, the clinical team removed his feeding tube, so he could eat. By February 2014, they took him to a recreation room to watch the super bowl. Tony says, “That’s when I really began to feel more like myself. Eating and watching football: these were the two major highlights in my recovery.”

Tony a few months after recovery

Tony’s Recovery Today

Tony has slowly regained strength on his left side and can now work on and use the left side, though it is still weaker than the right side. His memory and cognitive thinking and reasoning have improved. His short-term memory was most affected and continues to improve. Tony says, “I can think better when talking which helps others understand me better, and when I write now, people can read my handwriting.”

The lost sense of smell and left eye vision have been permanently affected. Tony says, “They don’t really bother me anymore. I’ve gotten used to operating pretty well even with these remaining injuries.”

Tony’s balance is close to normal. He walked with a cane the first couple months, and now he walks regularly.

“The hardest part of recovery was needing to depend on others to help me,” says Tony. “Not being able to drive and go to work were the worst losses in the beginning.” All that has changed.

Tony feels really good today. He can function well enough to care for his daughters. They were three months and four years old at the time of the accident. Today, they are seven and 11 and his pride and joy.

Tony with his two daughters

Choose WakeMed

If someone you’re with experiences a head trauma emergency, remember that WakeMed emergency departments are always open — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For less serious or orthopaedic-related injuries, we also offer orthopaedic urgent care.