"Just Go For It"
After sustaining a traumatic brain injury from a motorcycle crash, U.S. Army veteran Michael Meltzer pursues a master's degree and a new outlook on life.
In 2008, Marcy Meltzer lost her husband to heart disease. In 2010, she lost her oldest son, Nathan, to lymphoma, at age 27. Nearly a decade later, in the early morning hours of July 15, 2019, Marcy got a call that her youngest son, Michael — then 27, too — had been in a severe motorcycle crash.
“I got to the hospital, and there’s a Code Blue for Michael,” Marcy recounts. “It’s one of five he had that first day. He bled out twice. The doctor’s saying, ‘If we get through these six hours, we’ll see about the next six.’”
At one point, she walked over to the windows in the waiting room and started banging on the glass, shouting to the heavens: “Don’t you dare take another son from me!”
Michael would spend more than 10 weeks in the Intensive Care Unit at Delray Medical Center, where doctors saved his life. The longer-term concern was the traumatic brain injury he’d sustained. When Michael arrived at Shepherd Center, he was in a state of unresponsive wakefulness. He was also a skeletal 110 pounds — 70 pounds lighter than he was pre-injury.
“Everyone at Shepherd Center was remarkable,” Marcy says. “They got weight back on him, they dressed him every day and started therapy right away. And they listened to our input. That meant so much.”
Michael improved during his stay and began emerging to full consciousness shortly after Marcy took him home. A friend gave Michael the classic Simon memory game to help sharpen his mental development and his manual dexterity.
“Once he mastered that and asked for my iPad, I knew he was on his way back,” Marcy says with a laugh.
As close as the two have come over the past year and a half, they each joke that they’re OK with not being roommates forever. That day may soon be approaching.
Ten surgeries removed from his injury, Michael is close to full independence. He’s also pursuing a master’s degree in geomatics engineering — something the U.S. Army veteran knows well from his service in Iraq, where he mapped coordinates for the famed 82nd Airborne Division. His next goal is a career in geospatial mapping at the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I feel like I’m the same person I was before, but needing help from others has changed me,” Michael says. “No more pride, no more inhibitions. Just go for it.”
Written by Phillip Jordan
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 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.