Posted on March 31, 2022
Brain injury rocks geologist Mike DeVasto’s world, but he’s on the road to recovery
Ask Mike DeVasto what his favorite rock is, and the geologist is on a roll. “Rocks aren’t static,” he said. “They are an unraveling of history.”
Mylonite is his favorite.
“They’re a product of a shear zone,” Mike said. “When you put a rock under heat and pressure and forces act on the rock, the minerals elongate and the rock creates a shear zone.”
In graduate school, Mike studied shear zones in rocks – finding bits of history in these ancient, analog timekeepers. He’s checked off a bucket list of memories working as a geologist. As an undergraduate, he set off for Maine on a high-tech project to map the island-dotted coast. After graduating, he worked in a gold mine in Alaska.
“I remember when people would tell us that recovery was going to take a really long time,” said his wife, Dani. “And I’m thinking – he’s a geologist. He understands long times.”
Their world is rocked
October 1, 2021, was a beautiful fall evening. In an effort to stay active, Mike biked to an evening Cor Jesu service up the street at the Basilica of St. Adalbert. It was less than a mile from his home.
“We live on a really well-lit street. He was wearing a helmet, had reflectors, lights, and even a reflective vest he has from his field work,” Dani said. “He was just about to turn into our driveway when he was hit from behind by a car.”
Dani was home with their three kids, Lucy, 5 at the time, Noelle, 3, and Thomas, 1, with another on the way.
Mike was rushed to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in critical condition. He spent three weeks in the ICU, two of which were in a coma. On Oct. 21, Mike began a three-month stay at Mary Free Bed for intensive rehabilitation for a traumatic brain injury.
Dani faced her worst nightmare. She was due in early December with baby Isaac. Mike was the only person she wanted beside her in the delivery room.
“I always said that I couldn’t do it without him,” Dani said. “At first, I just didn’t think about it. It was three months away, and I was hopeful he would be there for Isaac’s delivery. But it became obvious that he wouldn’t be.”
Isaac was born Dec. 18. Mike was still at Mary Free Bed.
“The delivery was not the way we imagined it to be,” Dani said. “We discharged from Spectrum as fast as we could and came here on Isaac’s second day of life. I was so grateful to be able to bring Isaac into the hospital that day and every day after that.”
A ‘Wisconsite’ formation
Dani and Mike met in graduate school in 2010 at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. He was studying geology and she was getting her master’s in rhetoric and composition. While she wasn’t quite as keen on mylonite, they did meet in the middle with a shared passion for rock climbing. They were married in 2014.
Five years later, Dani accepted a job at Grand Valley State University. They bought their first home on the west side of Grand Rapids and have loved renovating it while settling down in West Michigan.
Before the accident, Dani and Mike were just getting their bearings in Grand Rapids – still wondering if they’d made the right choice to move to this side of the lake. They quickly learned there was more support here than they expected.
“It’s truly been one of the silver linings,” Dani said, “to see how much support there is here.”
Like rocks, Dani has been a keeper of history. She’s constantly reminding Mike of how far he’s come, often replaying a video of him in the ICU, barely moving one finger. The memories and reminders of his progress are not only motivating but also help them to appreciate the process.
Mountains of motivation
Mike graduated from Mary Free Bed’s inpatient Brain Injury Program on Jan. 21, and returned home to his family. He is continuing on with outpatient rehabilitation.
“When I was an inpatient, they trained me for everything – how to go upstairs and downstairs, they put obstacles in my way when I was walking, and I had to walk around them,” Mike said. “What they didn’t train me for was how much I was going to miss my therapists.”
The admiration is mutual.
“He was so dedicated,” said occupational therapist Jennifer Toschkoff. “I never saw him lose focus … he was such an inspiration on what someone with determination and drive can achieve.”
Mike’s continuing with outpatient occupational, physical, and speech therapies, as well as recreational therapy – where, he says with a smile, “They let you ride a bike in this building.”
When asked what keeps him the most motivated he said, “This is my job now. The only way out is to go through.”
The DeVastos have always been active group – hiking, biking, playing on the swings. What they’re looking forward to now is walks around the block as a family.
“Something you think is so simple can be a mountain,” Dani said. “This is not a journey we would ever choose to walk, but we don’t walk it alone.”