Nova Adams brings me back from the brink

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I toss the Miami Hurricanes hand sign

Story and photos by Garret Durst, NewsNetNebraska

After a serious car accident in August 2009, I was in a coma for 10 days and could not walk or talk for months. But after I relearned how to do all of that again, there was another struggle that I had to face. After a severe brain injury, the doctors said that it was going to be years before I got back into school again.

With the help of a remarkable therapist, I proved them wrong. I was able to return to UNL last January. I owe my quick return to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital’s Nova Adams, a mentor and teacher who specializes in helping students return to school.

I was a patient at Madonna for almost six months. As a gymnast for the Huskers before the accident, I had no problem learning how to walk again. Learning how to speak again came back naturally over time. But since my brain had been injured, returning to school was a huge challenge.

Garret “struggled at first,” said Adams. “But then I saw improvement in his ability to think and his speed of thinking. But the most important thing I look for with patients who have suffered a severe brain injury is their ability to pay attention and their memory.”

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Adams coaches me on addition

I worked with Adams on the basics, topics as elementary as reading and writing. Adding small numbers — 5 + 5=10 — was a challenge. Working with her every day for several months, I slowly came back. With the improvements, we both felt that I was ready to return to UNL.

Adams called my athletic counselor and informed them that I was going back to school for the 2010 spring semester. We agreed that I should not take a full schedule. So I enrolled into a philosophy and history class. Broadcasting was my major, but I did not want to take any classes in that field until later. At first, I stuck with the two reading-heavy classes, but it was better than taking none at all.

At the outset, even Adams thought that was too much.

“I thought that he went back too early,” she said. “The classes did not match where he was in his recovery. Philosophy is a lot of abstract thinking, while history is all memorization.”

Nonetheless, I felt I could deal with the material.  My comprehension and memorization seemed almost as good as it was before the accident. I was ready to face the challenge of classes.

I wound up getting good grades and doing better than ever. But I still went to Adams every Friday to get help with my classes. She would help me with the course material and help me study for tests. The semester was over and in no time I had completed both of my classes. I had gotten good grades in both courses.

Now, I have returned to classes in my major, broadcast journalism. I am making videos, taking photographs, interviewing people and writing stories.

Just a few months ago, no one thought this would be possible. Even the ever-upbeat Adams had her doubts.

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She works with me on homework

“If you would have told me that he would be doing this good this early on after suffering a severe brain injury, I would have said ‘no way’,” she said. “I did not know him before the car accident, but he seems to be doing just as good as he was before.”

Now I am back at school full-time and plan to graduate this summer. My comeback from the car accident made me a stronger person, physically and mentally.  I am also more determined and focused. Already, I am looking beyond school to making my mark in the professional world.  If it hadn’t been for Adams, this story might never have happened.

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