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Faith and Science Aid Man Through Brain Injury Recovery

Structural engineer Alexander Borges credits his recovery from a traumatic brain injury to his foundation of faith along with the care he received at Shepherd Center.

For 15 years, Alexander Borges, 50, applied his doctorate in structural engineering to various projects in Puerto Rico. But when a job opened in Orlando, Florida, that focused on his passion for designing structures, he, his wife Licia and their two children moved to advance Alexander’s career. He has worked at the company ever since.

“In Puerto Rico, I did many different types of engineering, but I felt it was time for me to do something more specialized in my field,” Alexander says. “After working for this company in Orlando for eight years, I have been involved in projects I never imagined.”

On October 26, 2020, Alexander visited Miami to inspect the roof of a client’s building.

“I had spent an hour performing the inspection, walking the area and taking notes, along with one of my co-workers,” Alexander says. “I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but at some point, a portion of the roof collapsed, and I fell about 35 to 40 feet.”

Alexander’s colleague called first responders, and he was rushed to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. For one month, he was in the ICU in an induced coma. He did not emerge to a conscious state until three weeks after the fall.

“There were fractures all over his body on his upper extremities, ankles, hips and shoulder,” Licia says. “The most critical part was his brain injury, and the doctors had to perform a craniotomy.”

Doctors told Licia that Alexander would need rehabilitation once he left the hospital. After extensive research, Licia decided Shepherd Center was the best option.

“I read about Shepherd’s quality of service and decided to contact the hospital,” Licia says. “I’m very happy I made that decision.”

Physics homework and a positive mindset

On November 24, Alexander transferred to Shepherd Center’s Acquired Brain Injury Program. Licia recalls how pleasantly surprised they were with the therapy team’s efficiency.

“We arrived at 1 p.m. that day, and by 6 p.m., we were settled in our room, and he was already seen by the entire team,” Licia says. “We were impressed with how organized and prepared they were to start treatment immediately.”

Initially, Licia remembers that Alexander was very confused and did not know what had happened. He had recently emerged from his coma and found himself 32 pounds lighter with a splint on one arm, boot on his ankle, and a brace to support his spine and core.

“The first week was very hard for him. Not only was he dealing with his physical injuries, but also his mind was coming back to life,” Licia says. “Our neuropsychologist Dr. Michelle Jackson, the Shepherd staff and I slowly started to give him information so he could understand what happened to him.”

After the first week, the therapy team deemed it safe to remove Alexander’s splints and braces. He received intensive physical, occupational and speech therapy.

“Every day, the team would push me in the right way to feel motivated,” Alexander says. “Staying so active helped me a lot physically and also emotionally.”

One of Alexander’s hobbies is weightlifting, so he was thrilled when his physical therapist, Rebecca Frissell, PT, DPT, gave him some familiar lifting exercises to perform. He also enjoyed speech therapy with Jennifer Speer, MA, CCC-SLP, because she gave him challenging puzzles to solve each day.

“The staff is really good and so professional,” Alexander says. “They don’t only do their jobs, but they create a relationship with the patients. For me, that positive relationship was the medicine I needed at that moment.”

Alexander was most concerned about his cognitive reasoning. So, to further challenge his mind beyond what he did in therapy, he did activities on his own to evaluate his abilities. One of those included helping his daughter with her physics homework.

“My daughter called me one day because she was having trouble solving five problems on her physics homework,” Alexander says. “Normally, this would be pretty easy for me, but I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to do it because of my brain injury. You can imagine how excited I was when I was able to work on the problems and find out my answers were right!”

Alexander’s progress was quick. A month after arriving at Shepherd Center, he was able to return home on December 24.

“At the end of the process at Shepherd, I felt like I had come back to myself and very close to the brain function before my accident,” Alexander says. “I am so blessed that even though I sustained severe trauma to my brain, I was able to come back.”

A foundation in faith

Alexander continues therapy for his upper extremities in Orlando. After receiving positive results from a cognitive test with his local doctor, he started work again at his engineering firm in May.

“We would like to let other patients and families know that there is always hope,” Licia says. “The science helps you figure out what is going on with your loved one, but then having the strength inside you to keep the faith will help you accomplish what you need.”

For some time after his accident, Alexander’s logical, engineering side took over, and he tried to rationalize what happened to him that day on the roof.

“The first thing I did was calculate the velocity I got to before I hit the floor, but the value was so high I thought to myself, ‘How is this possible? How am I alive?’” Alexander says. “Then I decided to forget about the calculations. For me, faith is the foundation I use in all situations in my life, so I believe God is the reason I survived. I also believe all of the team members at Shepherd were angels to help me recover.”


Written by Damjana Alverson

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.