The Greatest Gift
After sustaining a TBI, Kyle Plussa perseveres through faith and determination to return to a job he loves.
The greatest gift we have is our free will to choose. Choose to never give up, choose to never lose faith in yourself and choose to believe in the goodness of people. Life is precious. Never quit.
Teamwork. Service before self. To Kyle Plussa, a law enforcement officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), these are a code to live by.
Kyle’s sense of duty began at a young age. When he was 18, he accepted a candidacy to become a commissioned officer pilot in the U.S. Army. While a training accident cut that goal short, it did not stop his desire to serve. After healing and going back to school, Kyle proudly donned another uniform as a law enforcement officer. Eventually, he found his calling working for the FWC where his days are spent patrolling, protecting and preserving Florida’s natural resources and the people who enjoy them.
On August 3, 2018, the grit and determination that sustained him through his training, along with the support of many along the way, carried him through another challenge.
“THE LIGHTS WERE ON, BUT NOBODY WAS HOME”
On August 3, 2018, Kyle was in the process of moving into his first home in Naples, Florida, with his then-fiancee, Lauren. As he drove to return the moving truck, he was struck by an impaired driver who crossed over the median into oncoming traffic.
Following the car crash, Kyle went to NCH North Naples Hospital for stabilization and then transferred to the Lee Memorial Hospital ICU in Fort Myers, Florida. Kyle had sustained a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), including a diffuse axonal injury, increased cranial pressure and brain swelling, three brain hemorrhages, eight skull fractures and nerve damage to his brain stem. He was in a coma for nearly a month.
“The chances of waking up from the coma I was in were close to zero,” Kyle says. “When I did come out of my coma, I was a different person. The lights were on, but nobody was home.”
On August 24, 2018, a few days after emerging from his coma, Kyle was flown to Shepherd Center.
REHABILITATION THROUGH TEAMWORK
“My entire team made a huge impact on me,” Kyle says. “I cannot say enough positive things about it. Dr. Vox and his team believed in me, and everyone’s positivity helped keep me grounded and fighting each day.”
One critical part of Kyle’s rehabilitation at Shepherd Center was training in the pool. As a marine law enforcement officer for FWC, Kyle is required to be able to do a 300-meter freestyle and breaststroke in less than 10 minutes.
“My physical therapists got me into the pool, and I was able to test my abilities,” Kyle recalls. “When I saw I was still able to do my 300-meter swim within the minimum required time limit, it was a huge moment.”
Throughout the entire rehabilitation process, Kyle’s fiancee Lauren was by his side. As a biologist for FWC and the state of Florida, Lauren shares Kyle’s love for nature.
“Lauren is a strong believer in the healing power of nature,” Kyle says. “When I was an inpatient, she took me to the Anna and Hays Mershon Secret Garden to sit, enjoy and reflect. Once I moved to Pathways, we would use our day pass to hike every weekend. She helped me realize my self-worth and that we would be OK no matter what.”
THE GREATEST GIFT
Kyle made great progress at Shepherd, and he perseveres every day to continue to improve. After completing rehabilitation, he returned home to Naples. He sees a neurologist annually and has completed more than a year and a half of vision therapy, resolving his vision issues. He’s also learned how to mitigate the pain he still has from nerve damage.
On October 5, 2019, Kyle experienced one of the most important milestones of his life: He married Lauren on her family’s land in rural Ohio.
“Walking down the aisle to marry Lauren was a major motivator for getting out of the wheelchair and learning to walk again,” Kyle says. “She’s my angel.”
After being medically cleared by his neurologist with no TBI deficits that precluded him from returning to patrol, Kyle got what he calls his golden ticket – his second chance to serve. As Kyle will tell you, exactly 607 days after his injury, he officially returned to full duty and solo law enforcement patrol.
In addition to protecting his community as a law enforcement officer, Kyle serves in another way – motivational speaking.
“I’ve spent my weekends over the last year-and-a-half in recovery serving as a motivational speaker,” Kyle says. “I want to use my second chance at life to share what I’ve learned – to never give up, to never quit.”
Kyle was invited to speak at the Collier County 100 Club charity banquet, along with his wife Lauren and his supervisor, Lt. Mark Mahoney.
“The 100 Club was an integral part of helping pay for some of my larger medical expenses, like my medical transport flight from Fort Myers to Atlanta,” Kyle says. “I am very proud to say I’ve become one of their newest members.”
At the event, Kyle spoke on the power of choice and stressed the importance of never giving up.
“Take everything one step at a time,” Kyle says. “The greatest gift we have is our free will to choose. Choose to never give up, choose to never lose faith in yourself and choose to believe in the goodness of people. Life is precious. Never quit.”
Written by Damjana Alverson
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 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.