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Neuroscience Center Traumatic Brain Injury Advocacy Group

 
My Story - Chas Wheeler
I am Chas Wheeler, and did rehabilitation with Brain Injury at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital (TMH). I am a member of the advocacy group here at TMH to be able to help others who have sustained brain injury, and help families and friends of individuals who have brain injury. Having my traumatic brain injury in 2004, dealing with this injury, having been through rehab, still dealing with outcomes from the injury, and for having amazing family, friends, brothers, and rehab professionals assist me, my desire as a member of the advocacy group, and a peer visitor at TMH, is to assist others with brain injury.

In the Fall of 2004, I was in my second year of graduate school in Clinical Health Psychology getting a PhD. I was in Clinical Psychology because my overall goal in my life was to help other individuals with injury or illness. On September 21st, 2004 I was in hospital/doctor clinics participating in research, and offering assistance to clients with diabetes and depression. At around 4:00, I was walking across campus from the hospital to our research lab, and while I crossed the university street upon a bricked crosswalk/walkway a university truck struck me. I was life-flighted to a hospital 2 hours away.

In acute care, for the first 48 hours, I was believed to be close to death. I progressed and was in a stable coma for 13 days. When I awoke, I only had use of one eye and one ear, and the abilities I had with the left side on my head (muscles on face mouth, and nose), and right sides of my body (arm, leg, and muscles) were severely low due to the fact that the left part of the brain controls the right side of your body. After 2 months of acute care, I exited acute care, and was able to be flown to Tallahassee Florida, near my home, and family. For approximately 2 months I was in inpatient rehabilitation (at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital (TMH)). After the 2 months of inpatient rehab (at TMH), I was finally able to live at home with my parents. Due to the limitation of insurance that I was under, the Florida Brain and Spinal Cord Association, allowed and funded for me to have 6 months of outpatient rehabilitation in Tallahassee.

When I awoke from the coma, in acute care, and during rehabilitation, I had lost many abilities. In the first approximately 3 months after my accident, I had no memory of approximately 6 months before the accident, and could never remember what happened more then a few minutes before. I also lost all ability to talk, that resulted in having others not able to understand my verbal expressions. In addition, I lost memory of people’s names in my life, and lost the ability to do correct verbal personal interactions with others.

Through inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation I continued to gain abilities, and my overall goal was to eventually return to graduate school. In the summer of 2005, after 10 months of rehabilitation (2 in acute, 2 inpatient, 6 outpatient) I attempted to practice college again to see if I was able to return to graduate school. Near my home in Florida, I was allowed to sit in and practice an introduction to psychology class. In this first class after the accident I did horribly in the class, and could not get above a 60% grade on tests. Doing this bad in class increased my frustrations due to my lack of abilities as compared with where I was before the accident. I was in graduate school for my PhD before the accident, and at this time, I could not even do well in the intro to psychology class. This made me feel in a huge canyon. The frustrations, stress, and anxiety had started about 6 months after the accident in rehabilitation, and reached the highest level when I completed the summer 2005 class without passing. At this time, I took some time off, saw amazing friends and family, and talked with previous Speech Therapists to get and learn other possible ways to work positively to allow me to do better in class. The little time off, and learning more new ways to use in school/class settings, allowed me to feel more positive, and led me to continue to strive to meet my goals. In the Fall of 2005, I did well in the class I was sitting in, got an A, and chose to continue my progression by returning to the graduate school I was in before the accident.

In Jan 2006, a year and a half after the accident, I returned to graduate school. The graduate school (Clinical Psych.) was positive for allowing me to sit in classes to see my abilities. While I was happy I had returned to the area, it took a small amount of time before my grad school try became very hard. The university was on quarter systems, and I started in the winter quarter (Jan-March). The amount of information within classes in graduate school was much more then the intro class I practiced in, and it was very hard for me to use the new learning skills I had received from rehabilitation to work appropriately to get good grades in graduate school. In the winter and spring quarter, with papers, information due, and practice of counseling I got A’s, but it took me a very long time to complete. With tests, it was very difficult studying and remembering much more information, and this resulted in me getting D’s on tests. These classes were generally ending with my grades only in C’s, which are not passing in graduate school. In both quarters, I was also involved in a research clinic, and involvement in doctor and hospital settings with research with diabetes and depression. At this point, I believed I knew a lot from the classes, but my frustration rose because while I thought I knew information, I would still do badly on essays with tests. It was also extremely frustrating in trying to organize my class information during studying, and it felt as though I just could not remember so much information. My frustration and anxiety were raised by the actions of, or lack of assistance and accommodations, of the university, and lack of knowledge about my injury and how it had affected me that led to negative thoughts about my abilities. I was told that I should maybe take undergrad classes again. Also, with my brain injury, studying and class work took a longer time to complete then regular students, therefore, I could only take a few classes at a time to be able to participate and complete correctly. Although I needed the accommodations of more time, and to be allowed in be included as a graduate student, the university would not allow me to receive tuition wavier or stipend without being fully enrolled in 14 credit hours. With positive professors, we came up with an alternate way of supplying credits without classes for me to attain entry, waivers, and stipend to the university while I was only taking a few classes. I did this to be able to enter graduate school in the Fall of 2007, and take classes to be able to allow me the opportunity to see what I wanted to do in the future. I also did this to help me see where I would want to go later, because I had come to the choice to leave a university that was not wanting to provide me with help I wanted and needed.

After the spring and summer quarters of 2006, I took the summer away from the graduate school to help myself with the frustrations, and negative feelings about my abilities, and lack of help in the University. While taking the time off in the summer, and while dealing with negative things I was dealing with in trying to meet my goals of a graduate degree, I searched other possible graduate schools. I studied, and was very interested in Rehabilitation Counseling, that was based on assisting individuals with disabilities and help the clients to meet their goals in life. When I formally entered the Graduate School as a student for the first time in Fall 2006, I took a graduate school class in Rehabilitation Counseling at the university, and practiced seeing clients. To gain abilities in the university for studying, I met with the leader of speech therapy, and said I needed assistance to alternate my learning abilities, even though assisting students, especially graduate students, did not usually happen. This was agreed on, and accommodations were given to me. In the Fall quarter, I increased my abilities for class, and got an A in the Rehabilitation Counseling class. I loved the idea to help others with disabilities, and knew from my positive and negative instances since my brain injury that accommodations and assistance are definitely needed. In this Fall quarter of 2006, I decided to change graduate school, and attend Rehabilitation Counseling to help others with injury and illness.

Now I am a graduate student for my Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling, and started in January 2007. At the new university, I still deal with lack of assistance and accommodations from some teachers, but my learned knowledge from dealing with these types of negative things as I recovered from the injury, and constant contact with the Student Disabilities Resource Center, allow positive reactions to the lack of assistance from some teachers and levels of the university.

In my time after the accident, I had to deal with many negative things. When first in the hospital, everyone who knew me in the graduate school I was in came to the hospital and tried to talk to me, and tried to offer help. As I continued to keep trying to get better, a lot of these people, students and teachers at graduate school, friends, and family members faded away from really being in contact, showing care, and helping me in my strive to reach my goals. And I had to deal with, and still deal with, the inabilities of the Universities, and other places I am involved in, to offer assistance and accommodations to help me. Even though according to national laws this should be offered, many people and organizations try to do as least as possible to make sure they can not be available to lawsuits, instead of actually trying to assist people with disabilities.

While some negative things have, and continue to happen, the positive things in my life are shown much larger. When I was in Intensive Care, I had amazing friends from graduate school, teachers, family, and brothers of mine I had only met a few months before the accident (Lambda Chi Alpha) came to see me at the hospital. The Intensive Acute Care was positive to save my life, and for assisting all who came for me. I even had a brother of mine, and 2 amazing friends from Florida, drive all the way to Ohio to see me at the hospital. In rehabilitation in the acute care for 2 months, Inpatient Rehabilitation at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital for 2 months, and then 6 months of outpatient rehab, I had speech therapists, physical therapist, and occupational therapists that helped me continue to get better. Even when trying class again, and being in graduate school again, speech therapy and counselors have given me help that allowed me to continue.

Since my accident I have grown physically, gained mental abilities in learning, re-gained emotional abilities, and grew spiritually. In the past I have seen others that stop trying to get better and just give up. From almost dying, and dealing with all that I have and continue to deal with, I know with brain injury, you always have to, and need to look forward in life. You will be a different person after all you have had, and will have in your life with brain injury. You may change the path and goals in your life, but I learned that things will be different in your life after brain injury, but you can always make it to, and be in, a great place in your life, no matter what. So never give up.