Prescription for a Second Chance
After Will Rich sustained a traumatic brain injury, he wasn’t sure if he could return to work as a pharmacist. With help from his family and Shepherd Center, he achieved his goal.
Looking back, Will Rich is surprised he didn’t know how severe traumatic brain injuries (TBI) could be. After all, he was a pharmacist with a fair amount of medical knowledge.
“I had known about concussions when I played football in high school,” he says, “but I had no idea what a true TBI is and what it involved.”
Then he found out. On October 27, 2017, Will crossed a street in Memphis, Tennessee, with two friends when he was struck down by a hit-and-run driver. He had a broken right leg and left wrist, and most serious of all, a traumatic brain injury.
The driver was never caught, but Will and his wife Autumn say they are just grateful Will survived and recovered.
Autumn is a nurse case manager and knows a lot about arranging the best treatment for patients who need post-hospital care. So, after Regional One Health Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee, took care of Rich’s physical injuries, she requested a stay at Shepherd Center in Atlanta to make him truly whole again.
Will, now 35, has no memories of his first month post-accident, even though he was conscious and communicating.
But starting around Thanksgiving 2017, he can remember the multiple therapeutic approaches Shepherd provided.
“With a brain injury, nothing about it is easy,” he says. “The first thing I had to do was learn how to talk again. Then I had to learn how to walk again. Then I had to learn how to read.”
Before his injury, Will was a biochemistry major at the University of Tennessee who attended both pharmacy school and a master’s of business administration degree program. Once he relearned how to walk, talk and read after his injury, he then had to determine if he was going to return to work as a pharmacist.
“The physical stuff came pretty quick,” he recalls.
But when Shepherd therapists started showing him the kinds of information he would need to master as a working pharmacist, such as comparing medications, he realized the road to recovery would be more complex than he anticipated.
“I said OK, something about learning is different. It’s not going as easy as it previously did,” he says. “Early on, it was a little frustrating.”
“It was a long journey,” says Autumn, who stayed at Will’s side throughout his time at Shepherd. The couple has been together 10 years, married for six and a half.
“He went through a phase for about two weeks where he was really aggressive and angry with me, but that was just part of the brain injury. Once he came out of that and showed signs of improvement, it was like, ‘wow.’”
Will stayed about a month and a half as an inpatient at Shepherd Center, then spent a month at Shepherd Pathways, the hospital’s comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation program for people recovering from brain injury.
“All the therapists worked together,” she explains. “All the sessions intertwined. It was a very intense two or three months while we were there.”
The therapy team incorporated one of Will’s favorite pre-injury pastimes, golf, into his therapy. Once Will was strong enough, a Shepherd therapist drove him to the PGA Superstore in Atlanta, a big box store for all things golf.
“They put a club in his hand, and the very first time he swung, he hit it in the basket,” Autumn says. “That put a huge smile on his face and made him think, ‘Wow, I really can get back to doing things I love.’”
Four years later, back at work as a pharmacist in Memphis, Will is a regular golfer and says he enjoys the game more than ever.
“Before, I was out trying to hit balls really hard, but now I see that it’s important to just go out and be healthy,” he says. “It helps to know I can do things that are fun but are also beneficial.”
Will’s injury and recovery didn’t just change his life, it changed Autumn’s, as well. She transitioned to being a nurse case manager for catastrophic cases, mainly brain injuries.
“This is what I’m the most passionate about, based on his experience, seeing patients go from zero level of function to being functional and being able to return to their community,” she says.
“Will would not be as far in his recovery were it not for the people at Shepherd who gave him his life back,” Autumn adds. “This thing changes you forever, and they made it so much easier. We are forever grateful. He has his life back, and we have our lives back together.”
Written by Phil Kloer
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.