Friday, Mark and I attended the Brain Injury Alliance Conference, which we enjoy every year we are able to attend. It increases our knowledge and awareness of those affected by the injury. The keynote speaker, Dr. Alison Delgado, was the perfect choice to kick off this year’s theme, From Surviving to Thriving. After all she completed medical school, won the Flying Pig Marathon, ran the 2013 Boston Marathon and has reached the summit of two of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks.
Dr. Alison Delgado has also climbed a mountain of a different kind. As a young pediatric resident, she was hit by a car while riding her bicycle fifteen miles from her Cincinnati home on October 16, 2010. This caused serious physical and neurological injuries. Her husband of only five months, Dr. Tim Delgado, who was working as an emergency department resident at the University Hospital and trained as a flight physician, arrived via Air Care. He was prepared to take care of patients in helicopters during the precious minutes between life and death, but never dreamed he’d be called to save his wife. Tim was called to provide assistance to a “Jane Doe cyclist in her 20s” during her transport to University’s trauma center. When Tim arrived and realized that the accident victim was his wife, a second helicopter and physician were summoned.
Alison, who was wearing a bicycle helmet, did not suffer the kind of traumatic brain injury normally seen in bicycle accidents. Although she suffered numerous fractures to her neck and body, her skull was intact. Inside her brain, however, the impact created significant problems. It caused a blood vessel to tear and spill blood into the space around her brain, a subarachnoid hemorrhage. The injury either led to the development of a dangerous aneurysm—a bulge in the blood vessel wall—or aggravated an existing aneurysm. The discovery of a second aneurysm on the other side of her brain suggested that a genetic abnormality had elevated her risk of developing aneurysms.
During a series of procedures while at Mayfield Clinic, the neurosurgical specialists worked to treat the aneurysm and stop the bleeding. But the aneurysm ruptured a second time, four days after Alison had returned home from the center. The set back resulted in a seizure that forced her husband to insert the breathing tube. That incident put her back in the hospital for three weeks. Dr. Mario Zuccarello, a renowned cerebrovascular surgeon, neutralized the aneurysm by rerouting the blood flow around the damaged artery and then shut off blood flow to the aneurysm with a clip.
With the worst behind her and twelve surgeries to her brain, chest and jaw, Alison was able to focus on rehabilitation and recovery. She progressed rapidly from her lowest point, when she had trouble remembering Tim’s name. They played Uno, Life and Scattergories. Using an iPad, Tim showed her photos and prompted her to search her memory for the words to describe them. Certain words, including “helicopter,” proved elusive at first. Step by hard-earned step and word by remembered word, Alison worked hard to regain her abilities. Recovery also meant daily workouts at the gym on the elliptical, weight lifting and exercises to improve her balance. At first Alison had to hold Tim’s hand to do lunges; eventually she could do them with weights.
Reading came slowly at first, then more and more quickly. Sometimes Alison would have trouble finding the words she wanted to say, but her improvement and determination never ceased. Her speech therapist asked her to read a medical article and then write about it. She began attending rounds at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and by February 2011, only four months after her initial injury, she had presented two cases at bedside rounds.
Dr. Zuccarello wouldn’t let Alison run again until after she had recovered from the surgical clipping of the second aneurysm, which he performed in early March 2011. “We are focused on one goal: getting her back to work and to where she feels normal,” Tim said. He was her number 1 cheerleader and kept her motivated. In April, Alison began working part-time and in May, she was back full-time. Alison had to make up extra time in residency, but finished in December 2012.
Alison now lives in Utah and works full-time at Summit Clinic in Park City, specializing in Pediatrics. Tim, now works in Salt Lake, specializing in Emergency Medicine. He not only saved her life twice, he took a three-month leave to care for her. He says, “There are 54 peaks in Colorado over 14,000 feet, she wants to get the last 52.”
What an inspiration illustrating surviving to thriving. I imagine the Delgado’s are awesome doctors given their personal experience of two near fatal injuries and recovery. There’s much to gain from survivors and those who support and encourage them in their recovery process. Every survivor is unique and responds to treatment in different ways. Their results are influenced by many factors, but I love to hear and read about their challenges and successes. I appreciate Alison, for sharing her story at the wonderful and worthwhile 2015 Annual Family and Professionals Conference.
To read more about the amazing doctors story go to: