"Today is the Best Day Ever."
Joseph Lopez, 24, of Jacksonville, Fla., moves beyond brain injury to graduate college on time, build career in banking
Joseph Lopez, 24, knows how to negotiate. At Shepherd Center in 2012 for speech, physical and occupational rehabilitation following an acquired brain injury, Joseph’s medical team recommended he not return to school for one to two years. Joseph pushed to go back right away. The compromise: He would wait one semester.
“He’s a very determined kid,” says Joseph’s mom, Gina, laughing. “You might say he’s a bad loser. But that trait came in handy in his recovery!”
Joseph set a goal for himself to graduate on time – despite missing a semester and having to work more slowly upon his return. In 2014, he received his diploma alongside his peers.
“That is what I’m proudest of,” Joseph says. “You can say you’re a determined person, but until you’re in a situation that really tests you, you never know for sure.”
His mother wasn’t even thinking about graduation while Joseph remained in a coma for 18 days. He hit a curb while on his scooter, without a helmet. The first doctors to work on Joseph told Gina to prepare for the possibility of him never waking up. But Joseph did wake up, after which he spent 30 days in Shepherd Center and 30 days at Shepherd Pathways.
Today, Joseph uses the memory tools that he learned at Shepherd Center – to-do lists, calendar reminders, memory games – in his job as a commercial credit specialist at a major national bank in Jacksonville. He was even selected for the bank’s eight-month leadership development training program.
“‘New Joe’ might be a little slower, but he’s probably a lot smarter and more rational than ‘Old Joe’ was,” Joseph says. “And that’s good. I don’t need to be in such a hurry.”
While hard work and determination surely put Joseph on the road to recovery, Joseph thanks his mom for sticking by him and keeping him positive.
“My mom helped with that,” Joseph says. “She took a three-month leave from work and never left my side. It’s a testament to her love that I’m here now. We had a joke back when my short-term memory was bad. I’d say that every day was the ‘best day ever’ because I didn’t remember the days before! Now, I remember the days before, but I still say that. It’s true. Today is the best day ever.”
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 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.