From Near and Far
Arash Iranmanesh, 25, of Madison, Ala., had fainted a few times before Halloween 2008. “I had a few episodes before, but they weren’t a big deal,” he says. “A little confusion, but nothing else. I just got back up.”
On Oct. 31, 2008, Arash passed out again – this time after playing basketball with friends at the University of Alabama’s recreation center in Tuscaloosa. He slipped into a coma after falling when he passed out. The prolonged period of time without oxygen led to an anoxic brain injury.
“I don’t remember anything from that night until Nov. 25,” Arash says. “Halloween to Thanksgiving.”
After receiving several weeks of acute care, he entered Shepherd Center’s inpatient brain injury rehabilitation program. “I was learning how to walk, how to talk, how to eat,” Arash says. “I was really starting over.”
He continued his recovery in Shepherd Pathways’ outpatient rehabilitation program before returning home. Adjusting to a slower pace to allow his brain to continue to heal at home was difficult. “I had been in college where you’re doing stuff all the time,” Arash says. “Class, sports, going out with friends. Even at Shepherd, you’re doing stuff every day, working to get back. Once you’re released, it’s a lot of downtime. A lot of sitting around, waiting as you continue to heal.”
Arash feels like he finally returned to his life in January 2012, when he enrolled in a biology course at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Having lost his ability to read because of his brain injury – “it’s like a type of dyslexia that keeps me from putting letters into words and words into sentences” – Arash uses auditory textbooks now. This past fall, he took two classes and decided to major in biology.
“Going back to school has been great,” he says. “Being active again. Simply going from doing nothing to doing something just makes your whole life more meaningful.”
Michael Toyryla (pictured below at left), 36, of Spencer, N.Y., never felt the chilly water of Cayuga Lake the day he nearly died. Mike’s grandfather had passed away Easter weekend 2010, and relatives had gathered at an Ithaca, N.Y., lakehouse to celebrate his life.
It was unseasonably warm, and Mike’s wife suggested a leap in the cold lake one day. “I didn’t realize the lake level was so low before I dove in,” Mike says. The impact “turned everything off, like a light switch,” he recalls. He couldn’t breathe or move. Family members rushed in, keeping him stable in the numbing water until a medical helicopter arrived. The cold kept his swelling down, but he sustained an incomplete C-5 to -6 spinal cord injury, leaving him with quadriplegia.
Mike’s rehabilitation brought him to Shepherd Center for three months. “When they opened the doors, I knew I was in good hands,” he says. “It seemed like they were asking the impossible some days, but as you start seeing results, you start trusting them more.”
Mike was a working musician before the accident, performing in a pair of bands. He doesn’t have the finger dexterity to play guitar as he did before. Mike’s oldest son has inherited most of his guitar gear. “He’s got my amps, my guitar collection,” he says with a laugh. “It’s worked out pretty well for him.”
Two things Mike can still do well are writing music and singing. He can stand for a two-hour show again and can sing what he writes for his pop project, the Tijuana Danger Dogs. The band recently released a five-song EP on iTunes and is promoting it through their band’s Facebook page (www.facebook. com/49dogs).
“The energy and response from the crowd in that first show after the injury was such a rush,” Mike says. “I’ve been a musician since I was a kid, and it was the coolest thing to feel that sensation again.”
Deborah Krupp, 56, of Roswell, Ga., knew she wasn’t going crazy. She’d begun having seizures after switching medicine for diabetes. Doctors told Deborah she was epileptic. Deborah’s eyes became so light-sensitive that she wore multiple pairs of sunglasses and a hat outside. She lost her job.
“I started seeing a psychologist. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t figure it out,” Deborah says. “Am I going nuts? Am I sick, or what?”
A neurologist referred Deborah to Shepherd Center. She was diagnosed with hemiplegic migraines, trigeminal nerve damage and impaired speech due to aphasia. She had also experienced a mild stroke. Proper medication helped Deborah manage her migraines. Blue-tinted glasses provided eye relief.
“The Shepherd staff called me their Humpty Dumpty and said they were putting me back together again!” she says. “Nobody else took the time to examine me the way they did at Shepherd. They really saved my life.”
She did biofeedback therapy and acupuncture. Today, Deborah goes to the Shepherd Pain Institute for weekly pain-management classes for breathing techniques, yoga and meditation.
During rehabilitation, Deborah began designing jewelry. With the help of her husband and friends, Deborah opened a jewelry business called GemAssist (www.gemassist.org). Part of her profits goes to Shepherd Center to support brain and spinal cord injury research.
“I wanted to create something that would educate people,” she says. “So I made a brain-injury awareness pendant.” Deborah gave one to Shepherd’s co-founder, Alana Shepherd, who provided space in the Shepherd Apothecary, where Deborah could sell them.
“Wearing this is like the pink ribbon is to breast-cancer awareness,” she says. “I want to make this a national symbol of hope for people with brain injuries.”
Michael Leitson, 23, of Acworth, Ga., didn’t understand what was happening. A mild headache had turned into something more. Blurred vision. His right arm felt asleep. When his speech began slurring, Michael’s dad took him to the hospital.
“I had no idea what a stroke was, or even the symptoms of a stroke,” Michael says. “I thought strokes only happened to people my grandparents’ age.” It took about 25 hours for the entirety of his stroke to take place – the cerebral cavernous malformation slowly but methodically paralyzing his right side.
Movement came back slowly in the months that followed. Learning to walk again was Michael’s greatest challenge while at Shepherd Center. “I could not walk for 10 feet without sitting down due to exhaustion,” he recalls. “I couldn’t believe that I had to completely relearn something that I’ve done my whole life.” By the time he left Shepherd after a month’s stay, he was no longer dependent on a wheelchair.
Michael’s right arm remains a work in progress, but his body is back in motion. Exactly three years after his stroke, Michael completed his first half-marathon. It was exhausting, and the last mile was just plain cruel, “but crossing the finish line was truly one of the greatest feelings I received in my entire life.”
Michael recently graduated Magna Cum Laude from Kennesaw State University with a bachelor of science degree in mathematics. He’s proud that he earned his degree in four years, despite time lost to his stroke and rehabilitation. His next challenge: a master of science degree in applied statistics.
“Every day that has passed since my stroke, I am more and more thankful to be alive,” Michael says. “My favorite quote is from Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘Life is what you make it. Always has been, always will be.’”
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 neurological 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 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.