“I’m tired. I need to sit down. Let’s do one more.”
Mitchell Miller is determined. Every day, the 23-year-old works to regain abilities that he once took for granted — abilities he lost when he suffered a severe traumatic brain injury.
“Mitchell has an amazing, upbeat attitude,” said Kristen Lee, CCC-SLP, manager of Lake Regional Speech Pathology. “His own quote is, ‘I’ve had zero bad days since my accident.’ He works hard at everything placed in front of him.”
Never Make Assumptions
March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is an injury to the head that affects how the brain works. TBI is a major cause of death and disability, and TBIs affect people of all ages. The No. 1 cause by far is falls. Motor vehicle crashes and assaults are other common ways people get TBIs.
For Mitchell, it was a crash. He was in a rollover truck accident on Oct. 4, 2018. In addition to the severe TBI, he suffered a stroke, broken clavicle, broken sternum, punctured lung and broken ribs. He lost all movement on his right side. He also lost his vision on the right side of both eyes, called a field cut in vision, and he began having double vision. He suffered many cognitive effects, including short-term memory problems and aphasia, which means he struggles to say words even though he can think them. He also lost his ability to read and write. Later, he started having seizures.
“This is all just the tip of the iceberg of the problems, hurdles and deficits Mitchell or anyone with TBIs or strokes face each and every day of their lives,” said Sue Miller, Mitchell’s mother.
Time alone does not heal TBI deficits. Mitchell would have to adapt and work hard to regain abilities. No one knew if he would ever carry on a conversation or move his right side again. Katie Kelley, OTR, one of Mitchell’s Lake Regional occupational therapists, first saw him three months after the accident, when RUSK Rehabilitation Center in Columbia, Missouri, discharged him to Lake Regional Home Health. Kelley has learned a lot from Mitchell, she said, including never make assumptions.
“I have to admit, when I first saw Mitch, I did not think we would be where we are today,” she said. “Initially, we worked on just sitting up on the edge of the bed. Then it took four people to take one step. Now he walks with a cane and one person there just in case. He cracks jokes and laughs with us.”
Lee, who provides Mitchell’s speech therapy, gave a similar report.
“When I first met Mitchell, he could only speak in single words with low communication and very low problem-solving skills,” she said. “Now, Mitchell can and does have conversations with anyone he meets. He is able to handle basic money and compute simple daily math. He always has a smile and brightens the day of anyone who crosses his path.”
As a Family
It’s not just Mitchell working hard. His entire family is committed to his rehabilitation.
“The support of his family to continue to work on therapy at home, every day, is the reason Mitchell has really defied the odds,” Lee said.
Mitchell lives in Osage Beach with his parents, Sue and Neil, and his two Shelties, Harry and Hazel. His older brother, Sam, lives in Burbank, California.
Sue posts regular “Mitchell updates” on Facebook, often using #mitchelltbistrong. There are videos and photos of his dad guiding him in exercises, of the family finally back on their boat and of Sam celebrating milestones with his brother.
“Mitchell will tell you that he is really thankful that we as a family make this new way of life as fun and normal as possible,” Sue said. “It’s not always easy or fun, but we do the best we all can. He’s so grateful for a second chance at life. You’ll hear him say, ‘It is what it is, ain’t what it was,’ and, ‘Every day I’m on this side of the grass is a good day.’”
Work Hard, Get Results
Mitchell’s two big goals now are to learn to read and to improve his balance and walking. He can walk short distances but still needs a wheelchair — for now.
“Mitchell is confident he will walk on his own again,” Sue said.
Mitchell’s advice to fellow physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy patients is to listen to your therapists and to do your home exercises, every single day. You can’t improve just working hard during appointments. You’ll see the smallest movements and exercises eventually lead to big improvements — if you put in the daily work at home.
Mitchell keeps pushing himself, and today, no one doubts there’s more progress ahead.
“Work hard, get results,” Mitchell said.
To learn more about Lake Regional Home Health and Lake Regional Rehab Therapies, visit lakeregional.com.
For ideas on how to participate in Brain Injury Awareness Month, visit biausa.org.