Don't despair. It's a marathon, but there is hope at the end of the tunnel."
— Candace Gantt, traumatic brain injury survivor
Ask any neurologist, trauma doctor, or triage nurse treating Level 1 traumatic brain injuries, and they’ll probably tell you the same thing: Candace Gantt should not be walking, talking, or functioning in everyday life.
She shouldn’t be gearing up for another season of racing either. But she is—ready to run, bike, and swim her way into even better shape.
That is, until a tractor-trailer changed her plans for the day—and for the next several years of her life.
“A truck came up on us very quickly. A construction vehicle hauling a trailer fishtailed and hit me. I was launched into a telephone pole at 30 miles per hour, then into a stockade fence, and I landed back on the road.” That is how Candace now “remembers” her accident.
Candace suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Her short-term memory was wiped clean, leaving her with no emotional trauma from the event.
A neurologist who happened to be a mile from the accident, received the call as a first responder for Level 1 trauma. Knowing how critical her situation was, he immediately recommended to the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) on the scene to have her airlifted to Penn Medicine in Philadelphia.
Tough Calls to MakeCandace’s husband, Russ, was working nearly an hour away in Wilmington, Delaware when he got the call. Her cycling buddy said Candace was in an accident and was being airlifted to Penn.
Russ headed straight for the emergency room and was immediately escorted into a private consultation room - to meet with a priest. Russ just lost it, even though the priest was there for comfort and not last rights.
After Candace was stable, Sean Grady, MD, called to tell Russ that he was going to perform an emergency craniotomy. The surgery required removing a piece of Candace’s skull to release the swelling.
All in for a Team EffortCandace firmly believes her “stars were aligned” when she thinks about how many small miracles needed to be in place. She credits her care team at Penn Medicine, Dr. Grady and a woman named Susanne she came to know after coming out of a coma.
Every morning while Candace was in the coma, Susanne whispered words of encouragement to her as an attempt to break through her unconscious and give her strength.
In rehab, that voice - and an almost incessant desire to get back to her full self - kept her motivated in a way that Candace didn’t connect until later.
Meanwhile, an army of support kept Candace’s life running smoothly:
- Russ took a month off of work and stayed at the hospital across the street, so he could give Candace his full attention and help her recover.
- Russ’s family drove in from Ohio to help run the household.
- Close friends Cindy and Brant Singley left their children with their grandparents in Cape Cod and flew down to be with Candace’s daughters.
- The Singleys brought dinner for the next three months and helped keep the household running.
Before her accident, Candace had never broken a bone. But this traumatic event and the years of rehabilitation afterward served as a reminder of just how lucky we all are and how fortunate she was to survive.
“[Dr.] Sean Grady saved my life. There’s no doubt in my mind,” Candace says.
Her advice to someone who has been traumatized or has received the kind of shock her family did is this: “Don’t despair. Recovery is possible. It’s a marathon, but there is hope at the end of that tunnel. It’s so easy to lose hope, and it can be heartbreaking. Your life will never be the same, but you will survive.”
Resources for RecoverySince her accident, Candace has been a big supporter of events and organizations that help educate and raise funds for traumatic brain injury research, such as Penn’s Mind Your Brain, scheduled for Friday, March 13. The goal of the event is to reach out to people who have suffered a concussion or traumatic brain injury. Once brain injury patients have completed surgery, and in some cases finished rehabilitation, there is a gap between “high functioning” and true recovery.
Research dollars will fund post-doctoral work and help identify systemic proteins created or released after a traumatic brain injury. When these proteins are released, the brain begins to deteriorate. If research can discover ways to stop the proteins, we can dramatically slow down or even halt the brain’s deterioration. Then the brain will function normally, or close to normally, again after such a trauma.
Looking for ways to help or need reasons for hope? The Mind Your Brain event at Penn Medicine is dedicated to filling the gaps between high functioning and the realities of everyday life, after a brain injury or other trauma. All of the research dollars will go the Penn Center for Brain Injury and Repair.
Event DetailsWhen: Friday, March 13, 2015
Where: Smilow Research Center
3400 Civic Center Boulveard
Philadelphia. PA, 19104