Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month: One Veteran’s Story of Unexpected Survival

March 5, 2019

The human body is both incredibly resilient and devastatingly fragile. The wrong bump on the head in just the right place can lead to a caustic brain injury. And yet, individual fortitude can overcome even the most terrifying injury.

One of the most rewarding aspects of working in the healthcare industry is hearing the success stories of individuals who have survived devastating circumstances. In honor of Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month, I am pleased to introduce you to a young man who refused to accept a fatal diagnosis.

In 2012, Oliver Bryan, a decorated Naval Officer, was asked to perform the flag ceremony at a Cardinal’s game in Phoenix, Arizona. On his way home while riding his motorcycle, he found himself on a dead end road. Unable to stop in time, he crashed into a berm.

The right frontal lobe of his brain took the brunt of the impact.

His prognosis was bleak. Only his loved ones had hope that he would recover; meanwhile, doctors and nurses made end-of-life preparations.

Many people have heard of traumatic brain injury, also known as TBI. However, the understanding of TBI varies widely. In honor of Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month, we aim to bring awareness to the seriousness of TBI conditions and the incredible breadth of possibilities that can unfold throughout the healing process.

The Oliver Bryan Story

Following his crash, Oliver was rushed to the hospital thanks to a 911 call from a concerned citizen who heard the crash outside her apartment window.

Oliver had a severe head injury and was put on life support.

Despite their best efforts, the hospital did not expect Oliver to live through the night. According to the Glasgow Coma Scale – a neurological assessment tool used to determine a coma patient’s responsiveness and level of consciousness on a scale of 3 to 14 – Oliver was a 4, which is just one point shy of the worst possible prognosis.

His condition was so ghastly that the hospital drafted paperwork that would authorize medical personnel to collect Oliver’s organs to be donated to patients on the transplant list.

Yet, his parents refused to give up hope. They prayed, they surrounded Oliver with love, and they even turned to new developments in nutrient science to do all they could to help him overcome his injury.

Persistence Pays Off

After a month in the hospital, Oliver began to emerge from his coma. The medical personnel on Oliver’s case were shocked. They had never seen someone recover from such a disastrous traumatic brain injury.

“My first memory coming out of the coma was of my mom telling me I had an accident and suffered a brain injury,” Oliver says. “I didn’t fully comprehend the situation at the time, but I just knew that I was OK. I knew my parents had me, I was safe, and I was going to be OK.”

Soon after, Oliver was accepted into a rehab program at the prestigious Center for Transitional Neuro-Rehabilitation (CTN), part of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. He was put through an extensive program that retaught him how to speak, eat, walk, brush his teeth, eat, and more.

Because Oliver’s injury was to the right frontal lobe, the left side of his body was essentially paralyzed. As his therapy progressed, Oliver faced incredible challenges, including the fact that his right limbs were improving much more quickly than those on the left.

“I had always been a go-getter. The accident gave me something to focus on,” says Oliver. “I had a new challenge to overcome and nobody could tell me I couldn’t do it.”


Since his crash and severe TBI, Oliver has broken every expectation. His doctors did not expect him to survive. He did. They said he would never be able to walk again. He did. They said he would be hindered by memory loss and learning disabilities for the rest of his life.

Well, Oliver proved them all wrong. He recently graduated from Grand Canyon University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Entrepreneurial Studies. Now, he is working on his Master of Arts degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, which he aspires to complete in less than three years – a feat for any student.

Today, Oliver knows how to “hack” his own brain. Using what are known as “compensations,” Oliver accomplishes his goals by strategically planning his days and switching between left-brain and right-brain activities to ensure he does not hit the wall of mental fatigue, a trick he learned at CTN.

“I know I have a thousand deficits compared to the average person, but I am five thousand times more driven,” Oliver says.

There is no stopping this brave young man who is fueled by family, faith, and a drive to help others.

Oliver has no shortage of high-aspirational goals. He has already realized success in the entrepreneurial world by building and selling a successful coffee shop business. Now, he plans to earn a Ph.D. in Behavioral Health and continue to contribute to the body of research on traumatic brain injury and recovery techniques.

Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month & You

During Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month, I encourage you to reflect on your own goals. Whether you struggle with TBI, other mental health challenges such as mood disorders or ADHD, or find yourself overwhelmed by the daily challenges of life itself, Oliver’s story proves that there is nothing that can stand in your way if you are determined to overcome.

How can you honor the power of your mind during Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month? Tell us about a goal you are striving to achieve. You have our support and the support of your community cheering you on toward your goals.

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