Nothing Can Stop Me: Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery

Cognitive Disorder

Christopher Dittrich

The most important day of my life: The Accident

My friends tell me it was a beautiful, sunny Monday morning; the date was March 3rd, 2008. I was on my way to lunch; I had just been dismissed from my high school. I was trying to beat my friends to Taco Bell—I guess I thought they would run out of food before I got there. I don’t know, I can’t remember. Police reports state I was going approximately 95 miles per hour when I flipped my car, slid upside down across all four lanes of the road, snapped a tree in half and eventually came to rest—with the trunk of a big, heavy oak tree resting like a ton of bricks on the top of my car. The first person to rush to the scene of my accident was an elderly woman named Maria. She broke down in tears when she saw me recovered. She tells me that she took my hands and was talking to me, trying to keep me awake as I slipped out of consciousness. In her best estimate, she would be the last person to ever talk to me.
I spent three and a half weeks in a coma before graduating into what doctors call a ‘vegetative state.’ I was eventually able to open my eyes in response to sensations such as pain, but to tell you the truth, I cannot really remember much of anything from my acute recovery. All I knew was that the right side of my body was paralyzed, and I had a long journey ahead.

Goals and Dreams After Sustaining A Traumatic Brain Injury

What I will never forget is the goals I set for myself to get where I felt I needed to be. My senior prom was on June 6th of that same year. I wanted to go and I wanted to have a date. My high school graduation was two weeks later on June 20th. I wanted to get up in front of my entire graduating class and walk across the stage to take my diploma. Thankfully, I knew from the beginning that I would not go anywhere unless I worked for it.  

As one can see in the video clip, I did meet therapy with a relentless work ethic, devoting myself to look forward and always towards my lofty goals. It didn’t matter what happened last week, the week before, or even that day—I was always looking forward, excited for the future that I KNEW I WOULD REACH, as long as I kept believing and working. I reached my first goal of walking across that graduation stage—the first of many accomplishments achieved through the relentless pursuit of my dreams.

After graduating from the University of Miami four years later, I began working for a hedge fund with a Bachelor of Science degree in International Finance and Marketing completed. Work was frustrating; I was holed up in the back office of the company alone for long hours everyday—it wasn’t a good ‘fit’ for the life I had lived and the inspiring story I could share. As my brain was still recovering, I found that I now had the ability and yearning to speak to EVERYONE I SAW (ha), as well as an uncanny ability to speak different languages. In 2013, after only three months in the hedge fund, I capitalized on these two new qualities, left finance, and chose to pursue a career in hotel management.

Hotel management was the best decision I ever made! My new goal, to be a manager in one of the hotels of a multinational hotel chain, led me first to achieving my Master’s Degree in Hospitality Management, then to interning for the world class Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, to working on Miami Beach, to where I currently have what was my ‘dream’ job in 2013, as the ‘International Service Manager,’ as a member of the AccorHotels team in Bangkok, Thailand!!

 All of my accomplishments, both in the United States and abroad, have been completed with me still having a severe limp in my gait resulting from continued trouble with my right leg. I have also learned to do almost all tasks with my left hand, as my once-dominant right hand is difficult and slow to use. While fantastic and incredible that I haven’t let my “disability” (really dislike that word!!!) slow down my life and success, I still have the ultimate goal of walking again with no noticeable limp or defect to my step. Being just as relentless now in my pursuit as I began exactly 9.5 years ago, I took a leave of absence from my manager role in Bangkok to take part in an all-encompassing, three month gait retraining program in Beijing, China. My Mandarin language skills are improving everyday, but MOST IMPORTANTLY, my gait is too! Everyday I am taking the best steps I’ve taken in the last 9 and a half years. It’s the best feeling in the world! Set lofty goals, set high expectations and be RELENTLESS in your pursuit of them! Your dreams will come true, just like mine are every single day..

The best day, a new life

Since my accident, I have become such a whole person; I have experienced and learned so much. First and foremost, I have learned the importance of giving thanks and showing compassion for others. I owe my world to my family and to my close friends. Without them, I would not be where I am today. Always go as far as you can to say thank you and to help other people. It will make them feel amazing, special, and appreciated—I promise you.

In 2014, while studying for my Master’s Degree, my sister and I took part in what was deemed a “Race for the Cure,” where we raised a total of over $25,000 for the Buoniconti Foundation—Cure for Paralysis while riding in a 20 mile bike race. I chose to give to this foundation, based in Miami, for all the help they provided me with in physical/neurological therapy during my time living in the city. Despite the fact that I was forced to participate in the bike race with a recently surgically repaired collarbone—I had fractured it two weeks prior to the race--it felt great to give back to those who cared for me! Be certain to show appreciation to those who deserve it!

Next, I have learned the value of hard work. We are not going to get where we want in this world unless we are willing to work for it. Believe this, and you can have anything you want! You should have the utmost confidence moving forward, as long as you work harder than everyone else, which leads me to my next point.  I have learned to be confident. Some people would call it a tad bit overconfident, but hey, we all need to believe that we deserve everything we are working so hard to achieve. YOU CANNOT FAIL IF YOU ARE CONFIDENT.

Most importantly, I have learned the value of happiness. Live your life; bless each day by trying something new, something FUN.  Meet new people. Talk to the interesting person sitting next to you minding his or her own business. Set goals, be ambitious, light a little fire in your heart. GO OUT AND GET IT.

Let me leave you with a reflection.   I want people to know my story and know how I’m making it, know how hard I work, know that I have been truly blessed by the opportunities around me. I want people to truly believe and know that I am proof. I saw the light when I crashed my car, was given a chance to find a work ethic, learn how to fight, be a help to anyone who needs my help. I have accepted my challenges, embraced what I have learned, but that does not mean I will ever let up on my pursuit of perfection. I want people to know that I will never stop. There is such a passion burning inside of me, I find solace and I gain confidence simply in knowing that nothing can stop me, ever. I want to win out, so I know I will win out.

Last, I want people to know that I try my best to rub off a little bit of me on everyone I meet. Because people can learn what I have learned, experience the extreme levels of happiness and love and joy that I do everyday, without having to go through what I have gone through since the BEST day of my life, March 3rd, 2008.

A Reflection After 10 Years!

  So much has changed and so much continues to change since my brain injury, suffered on March 3rd, 2008. While most of everything in my life remains in a dynamic state, a few constants have allowed my successes today and have helped set me up for a promising, exciting future.  

The most obvious changing state has been my elongated physical progress—that continues to this day ten years since my injury. From the first day I can remember, with the right side of my body having no movement and little feeling, to the exciting improvement of starting to move my arm and my leg, slowly regaining control over at least some muscles on my injured right half.

Then how hard we worked to get me confident standing out of my wheelchair in order to join all my friends at Senior Prom on June 6th, 2008, a day I’ll never forget. Looking back at the pictures still today, being humbled to see my gaunt, emaciated looking face—cut to 120 pounds soaking wet after being fed through a feeding tube for over a month--with a faulty smile that I tried to keep, despite the constant nerve of losing my balance, falling down.  

I can remember how we worked and gained enough strength to walk across the stage, clinging to my father for dear life, at my high school graduation. How I was filled with such powerful emotions, swelling with pride as the one thousand person plus crowd hooped and hollered for me after I unexpectedly got up from my wheelchair to walk confidently to claim my high school diploma—how it forebode the future with me in a constant pursuit of goals and dreams.  

I can remember how my family all sacrificed during the next year, trading off driving the hour north on the alternating highways, fighting traffic to get me to outpatient therapy. We did it together every single day; I worked while my Mom or Dad waited patiently. I like to think the hours and days they both sacrificed during that time were made easier by the fact I was always ready to go, always improving, that my family and my peers could see in my eyes the fire I had and still keep in my heart to work, to progress, to succeed!  

I can remember how impactful my first trip down to visit the University of Miami was with my father. How, despite being in a wheelchair, I felt like I belonged at that amazing place. Everyone being so friendly, so welcoming, all the smiles that people were sharing added to the fire in my heart to work, to progress, to succeed everyday of 2008 and 2009 in physical and cognitive therapy, both.  

I’m so grateful that my family and I can afford to look back today and laugh at how unprepared physically I was to move away from my family, my comfort zone to begin my freshman year at Miami in the Fall of 2009. Confident and proud we all were, but it was nearly impossible to concentrate, to make friends, to enjoy college life when I wasn’t even physically capable of walking from one side of the relatively small campus to the other in one go. I developed an incredible knack to ask for help, to approach total strangers with the most outlandish requests—my communication skills overall improved so much. I credit the success in my job today very much to the times when my voice was the only help I had. It will always amaze me how my brain adapted, opened up when I needed it most!  

Though I’m from New Jersey, I often tell guests in my hotel that I’m from Miami because I grew up in Miami, my brain redeveloped in Miami, I became a young man in Miami. I love the city. Living alone in the crazy, exciting Miami presented so many challenges for me, someone recovering from and coping with an acute traumatic brain injury. Thank God I can laugh now at the memories of all the girls I met who I foolishly thought were the one, the money I stupidly spent at restaurants and on life in general that helped to so build my experience base. I worked so hard to succeed while in Miami and everywhere after, enjoying life, following dreams as best I could all the same.  

All the dedication to hard work has led me around the world, times in Beijing, South America, Hong Kong to Bangkok—my new favorite city. The last two years have been the most exciting times: having the opportunity to explore new places, deal with real life responsibility, meet new people, and share dreams with an international clientele. I appreciate and attack each day with intensity as I think of all I have done to get to this point. The fire in my heart, yearning always for better, pushes me further. ‘Good’ isn’t good enough; we should all be great. Life is beautiful.  

Over the last ten years, so much has changed as I’ve been in a constant, relentless pursuit of success. My family structure, career outlooks, cities, and countries have changed so much—there has been so much to adapt to and to grow accustomed to over the last ten years. The few constants, however, are the most important. I’ve had TREMENDOUS FAMILY SUPPORT since day one of my injury until today. My father, especially, has been with me since the first day I can remember—everyone has—helping to support me and to drive me forward further and further. The other piece is the fire in my heart that I’ve held and grown to be more each day since I can remember after March 3rd, 2008.  

Each experience I have, whether it’s a good one, great one, incredible one, or equally negative adds to the fire in my heart and the will to succeed, to EXCEED. Every memory I have helps me to draw motivation, inspiration to continue in a relentless pursuit of my goals and my dreams. Every day I think how much easier life could be, would be had I not suffered my brain injury--this feeling makes me work harder, pushes me as I continue to achieve.   Ten years since my injury, and the fire keeps getting stronger as more goals are reached, and as life keeps progressing. This ten year anniversary is the best day. I’m beaming with optimism, pride, and success amongst one million other feelings and feel my heart growing stronger as I excitedly approach the next ten. THANK GOD FOR SMILING DOWN ON ME, GIVING ME OPPORTUNITY. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT. I LOVE YOU. CELEBRATE LIFE TODAY, EVERYDAY!  


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