Local Reflects On Brain Injury, Recovery

ST. MARYS — On July 21, 2000, Chad Klosterman was preparing for his normal Friday night movie with his wife but wanted to check the condition of his four-wheeler before selling it the next day.

He took it out for a ride around his South Carolina neighborhood where the roads were not yet completed and a lane of the traffic was stocked with concrete drainage culverts waiting to be installed.

“I always wore a helmet,” Klosterman said of his riding habits. “I’m an adrenaline junkie — fast cars, fast trucks, four-wheelers — I’m all about that. That night I didn’t because I thought, ‘Hey, I’m just making sure it was running fine. What do I need to worry about?’ Everybody that investigated it said I could not have been going over 15 or 20 mph. That’s all it took to put me in a coma for three months.”

After awaiting his return, Klosterman’s wife and friend began to worry and searched for him, finally finding him nearby, head-first in one of the concrete culverts.

“They went down and found me a couple hundred yards from my house head-first in a concrete culvert with blood running out of my nose, ears and gurgling — pretty much knocked out,” Klosterman said.

Klosterman suffered a slew of injuries in the accident, including a traumatic brain injury, a collapsed lung, a paralyzed left arm, his left pinky was amputated, eight broken or cracked vertebrae in his spine, a severed optic nerve leading to blindness in his left eye and internal bleeding, among many others. He also fought several illnesses, including pancreatitis, pneumonia, bronchitis, septic poisoning and several infections, among others.

After waking approximately three months later, Klosterman had a long road of recovery ahead of him.

He began physical therapy — first learning to stand, then walk with the aid of parallel bars or a cane. He was constantly asking his doctors when he would be able to walk again only to receive the same answer — it depends on the person. Klosterman was discharged from the hospital Dec. 15, 2000, and said his dad finally gave him the answer he was looking for. He told Klosterman he would be walking by the end of January.

“That’s exactly what I needed,” he said. “He set this goal. It was the middle of December, I was still using a quad cane, but he said that by the end of January, I would be walking again. The second week of January, I was walking. I haven’t used a quad cane since. That was what I needed. I needed that motivation to get me past that hurtle that I had in front of me.”

Klosterman’s support system, he said, was key to his recovery. His family and friends continually visited him and supported him, making several trips from Ohio to Savanna, Ga., to visit him before he was transferred to an Ohio hospital. His wife, Emily, noted that he could not have a better group of friends.

“Chad has some of the best friends in the world,” she said. “His friends are the best friends that you would ever want to have in this world because they love him unconditionally and they would do anything for him.”

In addition to the support of family and friends, Klosterman also received help through the St. Rita’s Medical Center’s Ventures Program.

“It’s like a life re-entry,” Klosterman said. “You cook, you go to the grocery store to get your ingredients, you go to lunch and they give you money and you count back your change, they work on memory skills — just all kinds of things like that to get you back into the aspect of getting back to life. It was excellent.”

He noted he faced several new problems trying to re-enter life, having suffered a traumatic brain injury and the loss of use of his left arm. One task, he said, he was determined to do without help.

“I got tired of waiting on people to tie my shoes,” Klosterman said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to figure this out.’ After a morning of trying and trying, I figured out how to tie my shoes with one hand. I thought, ‘That was awesome.’”

Klosterman’s brain injury also affects his everyday life.

“When people see me this normal, knowing everything that I’ve been through, they expect me to be normal, when I have my issues with short-term memory and with steps in a process and the fact that things will just bother me that I don’t have any control over,” he said.

Emily Klosterman added that understanding from those around him is important.

“People need to realize that he’s going to make mistakes because he has a brain injury,” she said. “He’s going to have to do things sometimes two or three times because of the brain injury. That doesn’t mean that he can’t do it. That just means that it’s going to take him longer.”

Before his accident, Klosterman attended college full-time, serving in the National Guard before moving south with his former wife for a promising job opportunity. His accident changed everything, as he lost his job, suffered life-altering injuries and his marriage ultimately fell apart.

After spending time getting settled and adjusted to life in Ohio, Klosterman was able to return to college and earn his degree — although he noted the second time around was much more difficult — and returned to the workforce. Klosterman began dating, and he clicked immediately with Emily, someone who cared and respected him for who he was.

Klosterman said he is now hoping to help others through his experiences, speaking to groups about a variety of topics, including four-wheeler safety, traumatic brain injuries, physical therapy, the importance of a support system and the role of faith.

He said that although he had a major, life-changing accident, he still considers himself blessed.

“I’m fortunate. I may have had a serious brain injury, but I’m blessed,” he said, noting that he can still speak and does not have tremors like many traumatic brain injury patients do. “I think God’s reason for keeping me here is because I can talk. That’s what I want to do. I just want to make a difference.”

For more information on Klosterman and his story or to schedule time for him to speak, visit TBIGuySpeaks.com or call 419-305-7666.