Anthony White was catching a nap during the 18-hour trek back to college in Wyoming from his home in Michigan when his friend fell asleep at the wheel. The car careened off the road, striking a group of trees. His friend was OK, but Anthony sustained life-threatening injuries, including a traumatic brain injury.
“My parents were told I would probably die before they could get there,” said Anthony, who was just 18 when the March 2011 accident occurred. “But by the grace of God, I’m still here.”
To help their son recover, Anthony’s parents purchased an ice cream parlor in Jackson and moved their family there. It provided a place for Anthony to work while he continued to heal.
Anthony spent more than two weeks in a Nebraska hospital before being flown to Grand Rapids for inpatient rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed. He continued therapy as an outpatient, traveling from his Fremont home for several months.
“Therapy helped me physically and cognitively … it helped me get back to myself,” Anthony said.
Now, that’s what he intends to do for others. He’ll graduate in May from Baker College in Muskegon as a physical therapy assistant. To help earn his degree, Anthony spent eight weeks at Mary Free Bed as a student intern on the Stroke Program therapy team.
“I learned so much,” he said. “Everyone was fantastic. It was great to be back.”
Anthony’s recovery has been nothing short of amazing, considering the seriousness of his brain injury and expected prognosis. But he was motivated. He began running, even competing in local races, and got back into martial arts. An orange belt before the accident, he’s since earned his black belt and now is an instructor.
“Exercising helps me think clearly and helps me stay strong,” he said. “It works your body and your brain.”
“I had good days and bad days with headaches, endurance, fatigue … I was able to work as much as I could,” he said. “Eventually, I was doing well enough that I wanted to go to school again.”
The family sold the business and returned to Fremont. Anthony began taking classes – first one, then two … “Baby steps,” he said. “I kept building on little successes.
“Several professionals didn’t believe I’d be able to go back to school. But I just wasn’t going to give up.”
He completed the highly competitive two-year associate’s degree in about three years, earning a 4.0 throughout and tutoring other students.
He credits his family, his faith and his therapy team at Mary Free Bed with helping him get back on his feet.
“Now I want to help others in the same way,” Anthony said.
Physical therapy assistants Glenn Tamminga and Kim Gruppen mentored Anthony during his clinical rotation at Mary Free Bed. He worked mostly with patients who sustained a stroke, amputation or multiple trauma.
Glenn called him a good student who will be “an excellent PTA.”
“When Anthony informed his patients that he was a former patient, they seemed to relate to him in a very positive way,” Glenn said. “Knowing he was in the same situation and has recovered to the extent he has is encouraging to them in that they might be able to do the same. Family and caregivers have thanked him for relaying his story to them and encouraging them.”
Anthony said he’s happy to share his story if it helps give patients hope.
“I know it’s hard,” he said.
On May 4, seven years after his accident, Anthony will don a cap and gown for his graduation ceremony.
“I love helping people,” he said. “I’m happy to be able to give back.”