January 2004 was a difficult month for my family. I was in a coma and on life support, with little hope of survival. The medical staff prepared my family for the possibility of terminating my life support. My father was against it, even though my outlook was bleak. The medical staff told him that even if I were to come out of the coma, I would live as a vegetable for the rest of my life, considering the brain damage I had sustained.
Miracles do happen sometimes. I came out of the coma, but with some real challenges. The nerves on the right side of my body were destroyed due to the lack of blood flow that had lasted the three days before I was found. The entire right side of my body was paralyzed, and the muscles, tendons, and ligaments were in bad shape. The brain injury resulted in memory loss and loss of motor skills, and I was in severe pain.
The first step toward recovery was to work on my range of motion to help decrease muscle atrophy, (wasting away due to lack of use). The atrophy occurred anyway, because we were unable to affect full range of motion due to my injuries.
The following years were filled with small successes and huge disappointments. I worked hard every day to try to regain body function, motor skills, and as much of the brain function that I could. It was a very slow and painful process. One day I was told that we had reached the point at which I would not get any better. I still had trouble walking, talking, eating, thinking, and most of the right side of my body was still paralyzed and without sensation. I was told that I should set some goals to help me become a more productive member of society in my current condition.
When I told the team what those goals were, they told me to set realistic goals. They wanted me to stay on disability for the rest of my life. This was not an option for me. I signed a form releasing me from their care and declining the disability. My military training taught me that I could achieve any goal I set if I diligently worked for it.
In October of 2007, I came to the Stevens-Henager College campus in Orem, Utah, to state my case and see if it would be a good idea to pursue an education with them. I explained my experience with and interest in the medical field, as well as the challenges I would face as a student. I still could not hold a pencil to write. I could not type on a keyboard. I still had problems with my memory. The medical department staff, as well as the general staff at the school, assured me that it could be done and that they would do anything in their power to help me.
I took the promises of the staff to heart. I had no transportation and even walking was a challenge for me. I lived 20 miles from the school, but did have access to a bus about a mile from my house. Each day I walked to the bus stop to go to school. The faculty and staff stayed true to their word and gave me the assistance I needed.
It was a very long process but I did what the medical staff at the hospital told me that I would never do: I got better. I finished my degree against all odds with the help of teachers, friends, and family. I could have given in and remained on disability for the rest of my life; I now have my dream job. I have the opportunity to teach and help my students succeed despite any problems that might arise. I have learned that any obstacle can be overcome, and goals can be reached. My philosophy is that if we want to reach our goals, we need to throw out all excuses, keeping an eye on exactly what we want.
Edward Barney is an instructor at the Provo/Orem campus of Stevens-Henager College. He currently teaches healthcare courses in Medical Laboratory, Anatomy and Physiology, Medical Terminology, and Pharmacy. Edward also has experience in combat medicine and clinical laboratory science.