James Lewis

James Lewis

How Drinking and Driving Changed My Life

Before April 10 of 2002, I used to be a popular guy that was always on the go and loved to party. It was my first year of college and I was studying to be an underwater technician. With an IQ of 139, straight A’s would have been easy for me, but using drugs and alcohol I was a B average student. I was also in construction as well as some modeling. On April 10 of 2002, I had decided to go down to Tijuana for a night of drinking and getting high with two of my buddies. We headed down in my Chevy K5 Truck with the music cranking on the new system I just had installed. By the end of the night we had too much to drink. At the time I knew I should not be driving, but I just wanted to get back home and sleep. So we loaded up in my truck with the music cranking and began to make our way back to San Diego.

We were just making our way to the 15 interchange from the 8 east when I started to feel really light headed. I blacked out, more from lack of sleep than drinking. My truck ran off the road and into a tree, causing one friends shoulder to dislocate while the other walked away with nothing but scratches. As for me, an ambulance had to be called. I was under cardiac arrest when they arrived and was revived on the scene and taken to the UCSD Trauma Center. I spent the next 15 months in the hospital with 10 of those months being in a coma.

I have been diagnosed as having a Traumatic Brain Injury, or as most people call it TBI. An estimated 1.4 million TBIs are acquired every year in the United States. More than 50% of these incidents involve people from 15 to 35 years of age. I was 27 when my accident happened. Thanks to drinking and driving my TBI has affected my health, made me more dependent on others, and has changed the course of my life.

I am currently 35 years old and thanks to my drinking and driving I now need a walker if I want to walk more than 15 feet and I have double vision. I also have Ataxia, which basically means that signals from my brain are unable to coordinate movement of my body correctly. I often get tremors when trying to use my hands because of this. They usually start from the right side of my body and then work its way to the rest. This makes it impossible for me to write or even use a computer that does not have handicap devices. I also have what is called Dysarthria, which is also a result of this inability to control parts of my body. This causes my speech to slur and sometimes creates swallowing difficulties which has caused me to choke on my food a few times.

My short-term memory is another issue that I have to manage, and not being able to write makes this extremely difficult. In order to remember where I need to be during the day I have to set my alarm on my phone to remind me, or use my day planner which I call my external brain. This type of memory loss is permanent because brain injury is permanent, unlike a broken arm or leg. While the brain can never repair damage that is done to it, it can learn how to perform certain functions differently. This is why I continue to go to therapy and school with the hopes of rewiring my brain to be more efficient than it was when I first came out of my coma.

Because of all the health issues I have to manage my independence has been lost. I no longer have a driver’s license and cannot pass a test to be able to drive again. If I want to use public transportation I still need someone to travel with me to help with my mobility and to keep me safe from potential crime. If no one is available to help me with transportation, then I have to stay home. Even making a sandwich is not possible due to my Ataxia. If I’m holding a sharp knife and I start shaking, most likely I will drop the knife and possibly hurt myself.

I am completely dependent on money that comes to me from the state or members of my family because I cannot work. Money from the state alone is not enough to live on so I rely very heavily on my family. I also need them to manage my finances for me due to my inability to write or use a computer. Not having these very important skills also keep me from finishing my education. My dream of being an underwater technician is gone. Not because I am less intelligent as a person, but because I now lack those very skills that are functionally required. However, due to the Acquired Brain Injury Program at Mesa College I am again attending college to help me find a new career opportunity.

My life has been changed from that accident, not just for today, but for my future. I may never have a driver’s license or the job of my dream, but I will continue to keep working towards my dreams and goals regardless. I do plan to one day have a wife and family of my own and enjoy every day that I have to its fullest. One of the positive things I am now able to do is talk to others about brain injury and help to educate them. Most people do not know about brain injuries and think that the person has mental retardation when they actually meet them. Just because the brain has been injured does not mean that the person has become mentally handicapped. The brain still retains much of the information that it did before, however retrieving it can be slow and difficult at times and some skills have to be learned over again. I am also planning to speak to teenagers at their schools about the consequences of drinking and driving. It is my hopes that my experience can help prevent others from making the same mistake that I did.

It has been almost 8 years since I hit that tree from my night of driving while intoxicated. The doctors never thought I would be anything more than a vegetable, yet here I am. I credit my recovery to God and my mother. I have chosen to use this experience to reach out and inform others of brain injury and the dangers of choosing to drink and drive. Thanks to my choice to drink and drive my direction in life has changed, making me more dependent on others and creating health issues that challenge me. I hope that you will learn from my lessons and make the right decision when you think that you can drink and drive.

Serving the Brain Injury Community Since 1983