Traumatic brain injuries in the High Country: Nadine Adamson’s hopeful recovery
The Aspen Times
Editor’s note: This is the third of a weekly series The Longevity Project, a collaboration between The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
In 2016, Aspen resident Nadine Adamson, 66, spent the Fourth of July in Aspen enjoying the parade in front of Jerome Hotel. The following day, however, changed her life.
On July 5, 2016, she was riding her bicycle on her way to pick up groceries from City Market. She was going to attend a potluck later that evening. She can recall her grocery list: organic spinach, berries, and nuts. What followed was a blur.
She learned years later that she biked her way across the river. She imagines she was taking in the beautiful mountainous terrain and perhaps lost sight of what was in front of her. On her way back from the store, she catapulted over the handle bars of her bicycle.
Her head hit the street first; the front of her skull fractured.
“My whole body flew over the handlebars,” said Nadine, who was 59 at the time.
“I was riding a bike without a helmet, which is something I can’t emphasize enough: Always wear a helmet when you’re riding a bike,” she said. “No matter how old you are, wear a helmet.”
Her friend, David, was bicycling home from work and found her lying on the ground. There was blood coming from her head and mouth. Her eyes were rolling back in her head.
She was rushed to Aspen Valley Hospital. Then, she flew in the Flight For Life helicopter to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Lakewood.
She was later told the doctors didn’t think she would live.
“I’m sure maybe with all the different vital signs that the doctors took, that’s why they really didn’t know if I’d survive the flight or not,” said Nadine. “Thank goodness I did. God had better plans for me.”
She has three daughters, one of whom took a photo of her while she was in the hospital.
“All I could think of was right away is how I must have scared my three daughters horribly,” said Nadine, after seeing the photo.
However, after the feeling of horror set in, she let out a chuckle. The metal rod coming out of her head reminded her of a television show she used to watch as a child called “My Favorite Martian.”
She spent two weeks at St. Anthony’s Hospital. Then, she was transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver.
In recovery, she had to go back to relearning the basics. She spent over a month relearning to walk. She relearned how to use the left side of her body, as she couldn’t quite open her left hand.
Learning to drive was one of the most lengthy recovery-processes, taking over a year. Her driving therapist, Lizzy Ransbottom, later told her that her treatment process inspired a new program at Aspen Valley Hospital.
“She said, and because of that, we’ve helped hundreds of people that have had TBI, accidents, or strokes,” said Nadine. “They’ve been able to incorporate that program to help several people. So, I think that’s a huge blessing.
“I’m so thankful and grateful for that.”
Despite the long recovery process, the devastating injuries, she knows her recovery is a miracle.
Bicycling and Traumatic Brain Injuries
While many may think of brain injuries in connection to football, bicycling is actually the type of recreation in which traumatic brain injuries most commonly occur, according to The American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
Nadine is one of an estimated 596,972 U.S. residents who went to the emergency department during the time 2009 through 2018 for bicycle-related TBIs.
While we cannot predict when an accident may occur, wearing a helmet while riding your bicycle has been proven time and time again as a way to mitigate the impacts of bicycle-related injuries.
According to a meta-analysis of 55 studies, “The use of bicycle helmets was found to reduce head injury by 48%, serious head injury by 60%, traumatic brain injury by 53%, face injury by 23%, and the total number of killed or seriously injured cyclists by 34%.”
Despite the benefits of wearing helmets, many still do not wear helmets while riding their bicycles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed 4,170 U.S. residents in the summer of 2012 and found that only “29% of adults and 42% of children always wore a helmet.”
Colorado ranked No. 6 in the country in The League of American Bicyclists’ 2022 “report card” of the most bicycle-friendly states. Despite the popularity of bicycling here, Colorado state law does not require the use of helmets while riding a bicycle.
Exercise as Medicine
While Nadine was in recovery, her doctor told her that she would likely not be able to return to her long career as a real-estate agent in the Denver area.
“I have to agree with him on it when I think about it now,” said Nadine. “I think there was a lot more healing needed to happen over the next couple of years.”
Fortunately, she had another part-time career that she was told she encouraged to continue, teaching Zumba.
During her last week as an inpatient at Craig Hospital, her therapist scheduled her to instruct a Zumba class. Some of her friends from the Denver area, patients, and therapists came to the class, which was scheduled to be only 30 minutes long.
After instructing the class, Nadine learned she had led the class for 45 minutes, 15 minutes more than she anticipated.
“I handled it, and I think that they were pleasantly surprised that I did that so good,” she said. “I said, you know, that’s amazing.”
Now, six years following the accident, she instructs Zumba once a week in Aspen.
“It’s a happy thing,” said Nadine. “It just makes you feel really good.”
In addition to the emotional health benefits of Zumba, her doctor told her by teaching and participating in Zumba classes, she was creating new pathways in her brain.
“A neurologist at Craig Hospital showed me a scan they had of my brain, and there were two different dark areas there, and he said, ‘That will never come back,’” said Nadine. “So, to regain everything, to learn to adapt, learning to walk, and all that, plus the dancing and Zumba, it’s all really good because it’s building new pathways in my brain.”
Brain Health & Injury
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life. This year’s project will focus on the critical and relevant topic of brain health after injury.
Our panelists are experts in treating concussions and TBI. They will share the latest research, treatments, physical therapies and how concussions impact aging. Whether for themselves or someone they know, attendees will learn useful takeaways for optimizing brain health after injury.
WHEN: Nov. 10
WHERE: TACAW, The Arts Campus at Willits Willits
TIME: 5 p.m. Meet and Greet; 5:30-7 Panel Discussion
For ticket information: click here!
Nadine’s hopeful recovery
Nadine said her name translates to “hope” in French, in line with the kind of person she is and her preservation through her accident.
During the challenges of her recovery, she was frequently asked about her emotional state and whether she experienced depression or feelings of hopelessness. But, she always tried to look on the positive side of things.
“I’m a happy person,” she said. “I’m mainly just so grateful and thankful.”
She credits God, the neurologists and doctors, as well as the treatments available to her recovery.
To reach Kristen Mohammadi, call 304-650-2404 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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