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Man describes recovery from brain injury

The San Francisco Chronicle has printed a column by Karl Weisgraber, a 71-year-old man who suffered a traumatic brain injury after he fell off a ladder while doing work on his house and hit his head on a rock.

Weisgraber is a retired biochemist who worked on cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s research at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco. He spent three weeks in a coma and, through therapy, had to relearn how to walk, read and write.

An introduction to Weisgraber’s column notes that much of the recent attention to traumatic brain injury has focused on recurrent injuries and their possible link to increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

But transportation accidents and falls, particularly among the elderly, are leading causes of traumatic brain injury. One serious head injury can be devastating, the introduction says.

Weisgraber writes that there was a possibility he wasn’t going to make it when he was first admitted to the San Francisco General and California Pacific Medical Center. He doesn’t remember the fall or the five weeks immediately afterward.

He started remembering things “very, very slowly.” But initially, he couldn’t walk, sit without falling out of the chair or talk so that people could understand him.

He was in therapy every single day for at least for four hours a day. That included physical therapy, reading and writing.

It’s been a long and difficult process, but Weisgraber said he’s doing much better. He doesn’t feel that he’s recovered completely. He still has difficulty remembering certain words, or the names of friends. He reads more slowly than he used to.

Still, he’s grateful for all of the improvement he’s made.

“An important thing is you never give up,” he writes. “You try to do whatever your therapist or doctor is telling you to do. I was so far away that it would be easy for someone to say, ‘This is it for me.’ But I never said that. I wanted to try, and I wanted to push myself.”

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