Rob “R.C.” Martin, 53, remembers that Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, started as “a really wonderful day.” As a personal trainer, he kicked off his morning by working out with a fitness client and was looking forward to hosting extended family for dinner at his Brookfield home. But first, R.C. and his wife, Jackie, decided to take their three children to a roller rink for a family skate.
R.C., who was wearing in-line skates, recalls taking a step onto the rink toward one of his daughters. That’s his last memory of that day.
He fell backward, hitting his head. Jackie, a nurse, knew immediately that her husband’s fall was serious. She urged a rink staffer to call 911. When paramedics arrived, she insisted they take him to Froedtert Hospital, the academic medical center of the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network.
Traumatic Brain Injury Affects Communication Skills
“When you fall back and hit your head, the brain moves in the cerebrospinal fluid and hits the front and back of the skull,” said Anjum Sayyad, MD, physical medicine and rehabilitation physician and MCW faculty member. “This excessive brain movement damaged nerve fibers in his brain and led to severe aphasia, a communication problem that limited his ability to both understand language and express himself.”
Dr. Sayyad was hopeful R.C. would improve with time as he rested and his brain healed. Brain injuries can vary a lot from person to person, and she said it was clear his care plan would need to focus on speech in particular.
“We very much individualize our plan for each person,” Dr. Sayyad said. “That plan can change day to day, depending on how much improvement we see.”
Support for Family During Healing Period
At Froedtert Hospital, R.C.’s care team included Chris Clapper, BSN, RN, who works with patients with traumatic brain injuries.
“It takes a level of patience and empathy,” Clapper said. “Brain injury can impair patients’ judgment and make it hard for them to control their emotions.”
R.C. was confused and frustrated by his inability to communicate. In those situations, nurses help by reminding patients that the healing process takes time. They also reassure patients’ families, who are often distressed to see their loved one behaving differently after a brain injury.
To help R.C.’s three children understand what their dad was going through and process their emotions, they worked with child life specialists at Froedtert Hospital. These specialists offer age-appropriate support activities to children whose family member is seriously ill or injured.
R.C.’s daughters also made him a poster covered with photos of his family, friends and pets, which was placed near his bed to motivate him. He was indeed determined.
Intensive Inpatient Rehabilitation Program
A week after the injury, R.C. had improved to the point that he was walking again.
“His speech challenges were a little longer lasting and still needed to be addressed,” Dr. Sayyad said.
Dr. Sayyad felt R.C. was a good candidate for inpatient rehabilitation, an intensive program that gives patients at least three hours of daily therapy to help them improve further before returning home.
R.C. was resistant, eager to get back to his family and sleep in his own bed. With Jackie’s help, Dr. Sayyad convinced him that this therapy would benefit him in the long run. He spent 10 days in inpatient rehabilitation. His next step was several outpatient therapy sessions, which helped him continue to improve. A former lead vocalist in a tribute band known as the Docksiders, R.C. sang as part of his outpatient speech therapy.
Gratitude for Care Team After Recovery
These days, R.C. is back in the thick of family life and working with personal training clients through his company, Fitness With R.C. His speech has returned to normal.
He feels deeply grateful for the compassionate care he received. With emotion in his voice, he described people like his nurse Chris as “amazing human beings.”
“I remember one time I was upset and didn’t know where I was,” R.C. said. ”Chris sat down next to me and put his arm around me, and said, ‘You’re going to be OK, man.’”
He appreciated the occupational therapist who helped him bathe when he could not do it himself and the doctors who made time even on hectic days to talk with him and offer encouragement. Around a month after he was discharged, R.C. ran into some of his doctors in an elevator at Froedtert Hospital and offered his thanks.
“I wanted them to know they are changing people’s lives for the better every single day,” he said.
“Traumatic brain injury can be devastating,” Dr. Sayyad said. “With the right team around you, an excellent recovery is possible.”
Froedtert & MCW experts provide care for all types of brain conditions. Visit froedtert.com/neuro.
A 'Home Before Home'
In summer 2022, Froedtert Bluemound Rehabilitation Hospital opened, serving as a “home before home” and offering inpatient physical, occupational and speech therapies and other rehabilitation services.