2021 SDBIF Scholarship Recipient Mario Sanders

On December 30, 2016, my life changed forever. I was a passenger in a head-on motor vehicle collision with a defective airbag. My seatbelt did not prevent the dashboard from ramming into my skull. I was medically evacuated to the ER (Emergency Room) where I was placed in a medically induced coma. It was the day I was diagnosed with a severe traumatic brain injury or TBI for short. Those are three letters I never thought I would see accompanying one another.

After being in a coma for ten days, I lost the ability to walk, speak, eat, and suffered from partial paralysis to the left side of my body. I could not even brush my own teeth or use the restroom on my own. Those were just my physical conditions. I also suffered from mental setbacks. They included short-term memory loss, word-finding difficulty, and amplified emotions, where there is no filter between my happiness, sadness, or anger. Some days I feel as if I can run and jump to fly because I feel so free whereas nothing is holding me down. Then there are some days where I cannot even express my own thoughts because I have difficulty finding the right words thus leading me into a very dark and deep endless black hole. There are even some days where I find myself punching the wall because of the frustration I feel building up due to me not being able to express my own emotions. Sometimes I forget why I even stepped into a room.

For a long and gruesome endless five months, I went through tremendous rehabilitation. A regular day consisted of long hours of physical and occupational therapy as well as speech pathology. There were other varieties of other therapy, but I cannot remember. There were days where I felt that the therapy sessions were demeaning and ridiculous as if I were being treated like a kindergartner. There was one time where I was asked to distinguish the difference between a pen and a pencil. In the moment, I thought that they were being absurd. As I reflect on it now, I can see why those sessions were necessary. Some TBI patients have lost the ability to decipher even the simplest of things.

I did not want to be a patient forever, so I pushed myself. I pushed myself to the point of tears. I went from a wheelchair to a walker to standing on my own in only a few months. I would fall time and time again, but I forced myself to get back up. Today, I still fall, even on my own two feet. I have learned that falling is a part of life; it is adversity, and it is going to happen in our lives in some form or another. What matters is how you get back up and where you find the courage to stay up. My adversity came in the form of a brain injury, but the mindset I acquired from serving in the United States Marine Corps for five years helped me through the hardships throughout my recovery. There were many times when I wanted to give up; when the therapies were not helping me walk fast enough, think fast enough, or when it seemed like I could not retain what I just learned. I did not give up then and I will not give up now. Life with a TBI is more difficult than anyone can imagine, but it is not impossible, and it will certainly not stop me from achieving my goals.

There was a chance I would not have woken up from my coma, but I did. I felt as if I was reborn. I was given a second chance to fulfill my purpose and this “accident” has given me a new perspective of life. Things that I never valued before; I now consider extremely important to me. Before my TBI, calling my parents once a week was way too often. After being so close to never speaking to them again, I now talk to them every day. I used to take my friends for granted; that they would always be there, but now I tell them how thankful I am to be walking alongside them in this journey called life.

It has been about four years since the day that my life changed for the better. I now can walk on my own, brush my own teeth, speak coherently, and use my left arm. I even know the basics of ASL (American Sign Language). I have a wonderful support system because of my lovely family and friends. Not only did the therapists assist in getting me back on my feet, but they also planted a seed that has blossomed into the progression you see here. I now go to school with the intention of becoming a physical therapist so I, too, can help brain injured patients. I want to give them the same care and encouragement that my therapists gave me. My life today is a challenging one, but I will not let my brain injury stop me from achieving my goals.

I no longer take for granted the promise of another day. The value of life is much more important to me now than living for the moment. We do not need to wait for a traumatic brain injury to happen to appreciate life. Every little thing matters. We just need to be resilient in the face of adversity. Anything is possible… Even learning how to walk.


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