Graduating With a Purpose
After sustaining a brain injury, Dominic Pedrotty graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech.
Classes like “CAD of Fluid and Thermo Systems” and “Fluid Flows in Nature” could be challenging for anyone. But they are especially challenging for a person who sustained a brain injury and is dealing with short-term memory issues.
Yet, for Dominic Pedrotty, 25, those were the last two classes he needed to complete his mechanical engineering degree from Virginia Tech. And he did it, walking across the stage to receive his diploma on December 17, 2021.
“It wasn’t something I was sure I could accomplish, and it was surreal to finally be done despite everything I had been through,” Dominic says.
What he had been through was three years of recovery and rehabilitation from a devastating car crash.
On May 31, 2018, Dominic – who had just completed his junior year at Virginia Tech – was driving through Tennessee with his older sister when, without warning, he experienced a brain aneurysm. Doctors would later determine the aneurysm burst, which caused Dominic to lose consciousness and cross paths with a semi-truck. The collision killed his sister instantly. Dominic was transferred to Holsten Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, Tennessee, where he spent five weeks.
After leaving the hospital in Tennessee, Dominic transferred to Shepherd Center’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program, where he spent five months working on balance, vision and mobility issues, and memory loss, among other physical goals.
Through it all, Dominic never lost sight of returning to Virginia Tech and finishing his degree – he just wasn’t sure it would be possible.
“With my memory issues, I didn’t think I would be able to retain the information necessary to complete the courses,” he says.
But in fall 2019, Dominic returned to school, at first doing much of it remotely. His professors at Virginia Tech accommodated all of his needs. In the last semester, when he needed to be on campus, his parents moved with him to Blacksburg, where the three of them lived in a hotel until graduation.
Now armed with his degree, Dominic is looking toward his future. Though he still hopes to go into the field of agricultural engineering, for now, he is focusing on physical therapy and continuing to make improvements. He’s currently working two days a week at a greenhouse.
“My inspiration stems from the realization that my struggle and my success are for a purpose,” he says. “That I had a goal and a little thing like a brain injury could not stop me.”
Written by Sara Baxter
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.