Patient Story - After a devastating accident, life-saving brain surgery means a second chance

Patient Story Brain SurgeryMatthew Todd remembers falling, but little else about that day in April 2018. It started like any other day. Then, it took a turn that changed his life and could have easily resulted in his death. Todd was at work at a car dealership in Henderson, N.C. As he held open the door for a customer entering the dealership, something caught his right foot, causing him to tumble.

“I remember realizing I was taking a hard fall, and I pushed my hand out in front of me to catch myself,” he recalls. “Then, nothing.”

Todd took a direct blow to the right side of his head that tore a major artery in his brain. He was taken to a local hospital then airlifted to Duke University Hospital. Once at Duke, neurosurgeon Dr. Nandan Lad performed life-saving brain surgery without delay.

“He was ready when the helicopter touched down and took me into the operating room right away,” says Todd. “I have no doubt that saved my life.”

Preparing for the worst

Indeed, the odds were not on Todd’s side. His medical team told him later that about 80 percent of those who suffer head traumas that rupture a major artery die before reaching the hospital; another 10 percent die within the first 12 hours. At one point during surgery, a member of the medical team went to the waiting room to ask Todd’s mother if he was an organ donor, and she began to prepare for the worst.

Dr. Lad performed a craniotomy, a procedure that involves drilling a hole in the skull at the spot of the injury and removing a part of the skull called the bone flap. The craniotomy provided direct access to the brain and allowed the surgical team to repair the damaged artery. Once the artery was repaired, the bone flap was replaced using tiny titanium plates and screws.

Todd’s memories of that time are not conscious ones, but rather of a feeling of peace and of being comforted by his grandparents and other relatives and friends who had passed away—an experience he says strengthened his faith and belief in an afterlife. He then remembers waking up at Duke Hospital and knowing that things were different.

The journey to recovery

Though he’s in his late thirties, Todd says after the surgery he felt more like a five-year-old child. He didn’t recognize his own home at first. He didn’t remember what foods or music he liked or the names of friends who came to visit. Watching movies was difficult because his lack of short-term memory made it difficult to follow the plots.

“I couldn’t feel hot or cold, I only ate because my stomach growled, I didn’t really know the time of day, I didn’t know I was a NC State fan or where I went to college,” he says.

Despite the challenges, he was lucky. The day after surgery, the medical team warned his family that it could take months for him to learn to talk and walk again. “But none of that happened,” he recalls. “I was able to speak and walk and I went in home in a few days.”

Still, the road to recovery has been a full-time endeavor. Nearly 10 months after his fall, Todd continues to work with Rhonda Hollowell, a speech and language pathologist at Duke LifePoint Healthcare in Henderson, to improve his memory and focus.

“I had to relearn what I had learned over 30-plus years of living,” he says. “I had to be close to a bed at all times because I would get tired quickly, mentally more than physically, and need to lay down and sleep.”

Making the impossible possible

Todd has regained much of his long and short-term memory and his ability to function and reason normally. He can enjoy spending time with his 5-year-old daughter, Harper, and his dog, Blue. He still needs to take breaks when the mental strain brings on fatigue but says as he becomes more aware of his limitations and what wears him out, he can plan for breaks in the day. He has not yet returned to work and hopes to eventually find an occupation that focuses more on physical work with limited mental strain.

Todd credits Dr. Lad and his neurosurgery team for helping him beat the odds and giving him another shot at a full life.

“He stood by me for hours in the recovery room,” he says. “He could have had someone else do that, but he was the leader and he stood by his work. That speaks volumes to me. He made the impossible possible for me. He created a positive outcome, and it could happen for others who have a similar injury.”

Matthew Todd made a remarkable recovery after a devastating accident.

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