MedWatch Today: Man Learns to Walk, Talk Again After Traumatic Brain Injury

Med Watch Today

When college student Nick Burriel was nearly beaten to death outside of a Fresno restaurant in 2013, he was miraculously revived by first responders but left with a severe brain injury. He couldn’t walk or talk, but today, the 32-year old man runs races and does public speaking, and he credits his success, in part, to the speech language pathologists at the Leon S. Peters Rehabilitation Center at Community Regional Medical Center.

Nick and his family treasure every day together as a gift because life was nearly taken away eight years ago.

“I was assaulted, my assault caused me to flatline for 25 minutes and by the grace of God, I pulled through it,” said Nick.

It’s still difficult for Nick’s father Dominic to speak about that night. Dominic cried, “It’s been a long time. He went to cardiac arrest and died there that night, and they said he had died for 25 minutes, and that’s what happened, he lost oxygen to his brain and that’s what caused the brain damage he has now.”

Nick was in a coma and then transferred to the intensive care unit at Community Regional. The former collegiate soccer player was left with a traumatic brain injury, unable to do day-to-day things.

“I was 100-percent disabled. I needed help with cleaning myself, showering myself, feeding myself. All aspects of life, dressing myself,” added Nick.

But, he was driven to beat the odds. Nick worked aggressively with physical therapists and speech language pathologists at the Leon S. Peters Rehabilitation Center.

Courtney Young is one of the speech language pathologists there. She said, “Often times, we’ll see patients right after they’ve been extubated, and so one of our first things that we’ll work with is we work on swallowing, so getting them eating and drinking safely after being both intubated and having had a head injury those can both cause dysphagia, which is our term for not being able to swallow or having difficulty swallowing… We also work a lot with cognition and how a patient remembers things, pays attention, comes up with language, understands things, get the words out, organizes their thoughts, problem solving, things like that.”

Dominic recalls the exercises his son practiced with his therapists.

“How the miracle of the therapists, and the time and the effort that they put into getting him to do exercises with his tongue, even to lift his tongue to the top of his mouth and drop it from side to side… I remember one they did with a spoon, where they put the spoon, they wanted him to lift the spoon to generate that muscle memory in his mouth to speak,” stated Dominic.

Nick said, “All my PT therapists, cognitive therapists, all the therapists I had, they preached to me to keep going on, they always helped me out the most.”

Today, Nick is training for his first 10K race and he’s a public speaker. He was just honored with the “Consumer of the Year Award” from the California Speech-Language-Hearing Association State Honors Committee and will be speaking about his recovery at the American Trauma Society’s National Conference. He also encourages youth and other trauma survivors to persevere through challenges – challenges he said he couldn’t have overcome without his dedicated therapists.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be here talking to you, without their persistence, without their love of their jobs,” ended Nick.

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