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After traumatic brain injury, man learns to walk again, gets his life back

By Molly Cartwright

For Eric De Ryke, learning to drive again was a triumph. His family and doctors thought so, too, since just 5 months ago they expected him to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Today, Eric is able to walk, drive and do his own laundry. For the 22-year-old, these are not just simple abilities, but proof of his hard-earned independence.

In January, Eric was a passenger in a truck driven by a drunk driver. The driver failed to stop at a stop sign and crashed into a tree. The collision left Eric in a coma while another passenger, Eric’s friend, was killed. Eric sustained a traumatic brain injury from the crash. Chelsea De Ryke, Eric’s sister, talked about the struggles that he faced and ultimately overcame during his time at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

Eric woke up from a coma after 12 days, unable to speak coherently or to walk. During his first days at Mary Free Bed, Chelsea recalled trying to make sense of Eric’s words. The doctors told Eric’s family that he would never regain mobility. While Eric did not yet understand his condition or remember the accident, his family was comforted by the genuine care that the therapists showed Eric and them. Chelsea appreciated that the therapists listened to her family cry, comforted them, and made them feel less scared.

Eric’s family chose Mary Free Bed because of the exceptional reviews they found in brochures and through searching on Google. Chelsea explained that the reviews described Mary Free Bed as the best. According to Chelsea, they were right.

Chelsea remembered that Eric’s team of therapists started his intense physical therapy right away. She was also impressed by their display of patience and attentiveness. They knew how Eric was progressing and where he still needed training.

Eric was very thankful for being able to walk again, according to Chelsea. Eric’s success, however, went beyond walking. At Mary Free Bed, Eric relearned daily life skills, including how to brush his teeth. While these tasks seem simple, to Eric, mastering them meant being more independent.

“You felt good about him being there,” Chelsea said. Chelsea mentioned that Eric, a former culinary student, thought the food was wonderful. He enjoyed his physical therapy, too, even though he was exhausted and ready for bed at the end of the day.

Before the crash, Eric worked contracting jobs and enjoyed driving. His favorite area of the physical therapy gym was the simulated car. Still, a true country boy, Eric told Chelsea that he would have liked a truck instead.

Besides his wish to drive a truck again, Chelsea credited Eric’s stubbornness for his recovery. Indeed, stubbornness helped keep Eric’s family and his therapists going during his rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed.

“Everyone pulled together (and) is still pulling together,” Chelsea said.

Eric’s doctors called him a miracle child because of his progress. Chelsea added that she was amazed by every patient at Mary Free Bed and the genuine care the therapists gave. She believed that any person who visited or volunteered at Mary Free Bed would be blown away by patients’ struggles and the successes they achieved every day.

Eric still does therapy 5 times a week, but is looking forward to enjoying the things he did before the accident. Chelsea said that Mary Free Bed has helped Eric toward that end.


jose olivo

I also was diagnosed with tbi almost 2 years ago, I have left sided weakness . So I cannot walk only with a cane or walker which sucks! But after reading your story it inspires me more. THANK YOU

i am boone

i have a tbi also i was in a wheel chair also but out of it i am walking but not great and did this on my own but how can i be normal like you i do have facebook i hope you do write me not on aol facebook please

Dennis Jordan

It’s almost 2 years since I was ran over. I can not walk unassisted. I am so tired of the loss of this talent that I may be going nuts. I move with a walker and have divorced the wheelchair. I need to progress more. If you can help, don’t be shy! Regards, Den


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