A Blessing in Disguise
After sustaining a traumatic brain injury, Hannibal Black works to spread encouragement and comfort to others.
In July of 2016, Hannibal Black, 27, of Mahopac, New York, lived in Alabama after graduating from Alabama A&M University with a Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) in Systems and Materiel Engineering. A young man with ambition and drive, Hannibal worked throughout his two-year master’s program at an engineering and technical services company providing assessment support on missiles for the military. While focusing on his education and career were top priorities, Hannibal also enjoyed riding his motorcycle to relax.
“I got a motorcycle a few months after beginning my master’s program in 2014,” Hannibal says. “The rest is history.”
After leaving work one day in July of 2016, he decided to ride his motorcycle with a group of friends.
“We were riding on the back roads and approaching a turn,” Hannibal recalls. “I must have been going at a high rate of speed when my motorcycle slipped on some sand. I slammed into a tree and boulders on the side of the road.”
Hannibal instantly lost consciousness. Fortunately, one of his friends was a volunteer firefighter who knew not to move him until emergency personnel arrived on the scene.
“The emergency medical team assessed me and took me to Huntsville Hospital,” Hannibal says. “At that point, I went into a coma.”
Hannibal had sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He also had deep lacerations on his knee, a broken ankle and thumb, and a fractured pelvis bone. His family found out in one of the most startling ways possible – through social media.
“One of my friends posted on Facebook to pray for me, and my aunt, Felicia Davis, saw it,” Hannibal says. “She told my parents, and my dad was able to come straight to Alabama to be with me. My family is my support system.”
Rebuilding from the ground-up
Hannibal was minimally conscious for 23 days. He transferred to Shepherd Center’s Disorders of Consciousness (DoC) Brain Injury Program in Atlanta later that same month.
“I’m still blown away when I think about being ‘out’ for 23 days,” Hannibal says. “I am absolutely blessed that I woke up at Shepherd Center.”
When Hannibal emerged from his minimally conscious state, he began rehabilitation in Shepherd Center’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program. He describes the initial experience of emerging like walking through a fog.
“It was like being a newborn again,” Hannibal says. “I couldn’t control my body, had trouble with my balance, double vision and I was being fed through a feeding tube. Everything that I did required assistance such as showering, using the restroom and going to bed. When I tried to talk, I knew what I wanted to say, but when I opened my mouth, only air came out.”
Although he had to start from the beginning, Hannibal decided to accept his reality. He credits his family, friends and support from his medical team at Shepherd Center for helping him get through the toughest times. Hannibal’s father, a Marine, told him something that stuck with him.
“My father always told me, ‘The real battle is not on the battlefield, it is in the mind to accept what has happened and what is happening,’” Hannibal says. “I had to come to grips with the fact that my accident happened. I thank God for giving me the mental fortitude to get through this and surrounding me with my support group. All that love and warmth is a huge part of what I remember from my time at Shepherd Center.”
Hannibal’s family traveled to stay with him during his rehabilitation and lived in the Irene and George Woodruff Family Residence Center. His mother took four months of leave from her teaching position to be with him around the clock. Each Sunday, she would insist that he visit the Alana and Harold Shepherd Chapel with her. Although he did not always want to go, he is grateful that he did.
“Going to the chapel helped humble me,” Hannibal says. “I gave everything to God and thanked Him for where I was at that moment. I credit God for my miraculous recovery, along with the steady stream of prayers and support from my church family back home in upstate New York.”
In addition to the chapel, Hannibal’s physical therapy sessions have a special place in his heart.
“They kicked my butt!” Hannibal jokes. “Even though they can be tough, the therapists approach your rehab out of kindness and love. It was a huge part of my healing process.”
After completing inpatient rehabilitation, Hannibal transitioned to Shepherd Pathways, a comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation program for people recovering from brain injury.
“By the time I started at Pathways, I was ready for the challenge,” Hannibal says. “It was difficult, but I was determined to meet and exceed expectations. I told them I would walk out of there at graduation, and sure enough, that week, I was walking in the hallways!”
After three months of faith and hard work, Hannibal graduated from Shepherd Center’s rehabilitation program. He was able to return home Thanksgiving week.
A blessing in disguise
Since graduating from Shepherd Center in November 2016, Hannibal has made many positive changes in his life. During his recovery process, he lost a remarkable 100 pounds and continues to work on all aspects of his health. He challenges his mind by teaching himself SQL, a programming language for database management systems. Hannibal has even started his own video editing company, Big Han Edits, where he works to spread encouragement and hope to families through his art. He is currently developing a website for the business and taking inquiries by email here. Ultimately, he has the long-term goal to return to a career in systems engineering.
While Hannibal keeps himself busy with these worthy pursuits, his true calling and passion is his faith. Since returning home to New York, he was ordained as a deacon at his church. He applies his skills as a deacon to donating his time as a spiritual care volunteer at a local hospice working with end-of-life patients. His mission is to make others happy.
“I don’t believe I would have found my calling without the motorcycle crash,” Hannibal says. “Even though it seems awful, it was a blessing in disguise. Tough things may happen to you, and tough things may happen around you. But the only thing that matters is what happens in you!”
Written by Damjana Alverson
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 743 inpatients, 277 day program patients and more than 7,161 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.