Listening to Ted Brackett sing and play guitar, it's hard to imagine that at one point he was in an acute care hospital fighting for his life.
He was the department chair of special education at Bonny Eagle High School and had just completed two workshop days in preparation for the new school year when, on Sept. 5, 2005, Ted fell several feet off a ladder while painting his house.
At the emergency room, Ted was diagnosed with life threatening injuries: a subarachnoid hemorrhage (severe brain injury), frontal lobe hematoma (swelling) and multiple rib fractures. While hospitalized, Ted also exhibited aphasia (impairment of the power to use or comprehend words) and dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). He had poor comprehension, insomnia and developed aspiration pneumonia. Therapy was provided to address cognition and impulsivity. The subarachnoid hemorrhage resolved and the frontal lobe hematoma improved.
On Sept.22, 2005 Ted transferred to New England Rehabilitation Hospital of Portland (NERHP) where he took the first steps toward recovery. For the next month, he received intense inpatient physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Several issues were addressed during his therapies: mobility, balance, low back pain, orientation, muscle weakness, visual impairment and the inability to eat.
Ted says he only remembers the last two weeks of his inpatient three week stay at NERHP. But during the course of those two weeks he remembers the dedication of his nurses, the care exhibited by a volunteer who sat with him during his sleepless nights and the speech language pathologist who helped him eat every day during his lunch.
When Ted was discharged in October 2005, he was able to walk with supervision, a significant gain for Ted, and he was eating full meals. He still needed supervision and occasional assistance with many activities of daily living, but he was home. The next step was to participate in NERHP’s outpatient therapy programs.
"The lowest, lowest point in my life was when I was told I could never teach in a class room again," said Ted.
Hindered by mood changes, agitation, memory and attention deficits, Ted realized that he would not be able to teach in a class room and it was devastating for him. Over the next 14 months Ted worked very hard with his physical, occupational and speech therapists to help him develop the ability to retain and organize information. He learned to tap into the skills that he needs to help him function today from his exceptional educational background.
"I explain to people that all my knowledge is still in my brain, but it has to by-pass the areas that were damaged," said Ted. “My short term memory is starting to grow as I learn methods of retention."
Knowing what kind of life he led before the accident and the deficits that he now copes with contribute toward depression, an on-going challenge.
"If I could educate other brain injury patients about one thing, it would be about depression and that multi-disciplined therapy is the only answer," said Ted. “The therapists at New England Rehab taught me, worked with me and pushed me to go that extra step. As hard as some sessions were, when I left New England Rehab, I would say, 'thank you, thank you, thank you!'
His recreational therapist also played a big role in helping him with depression.
"Some days she and I would just talk," said Ted. “I could scream with frustration and anger. I could be sad. She was always there for me and listened."
It was during one of these sessions that his therapist discovered Ted loved music. He sang with the Downeasters Barbershop Chorus for 25 years and in the choir of his church. He had played guitar in his college days and was in a folk music group. He dusted off the guitar that sat untouched in the family room for the last 20 years and started music lessons at USM with his therapist by his side. Once a week you can hear Ted singing a favorite folk song and playing his guitar in one of the outpatient therapy rooms.
Upon graduation from NERHP’s physical, occupational and speech language pathology programs, he made vast improvements. Ted couldn't talk after his accident and now he talks normally and sings. He couldn't retain information and now he reads music and plays the guitar. He became a member of NERHP’s very own "Mariachi Singers," who sing to patients during the holidays.
He had trouble walking and now he snowshoes. He manages his day's activities with the guidance and support of his wife, Carol, and his daily planner. And, Ted was able to teach again. He also was able to volunteer his time at NERHP to tutor a patient who has aphasia from a stroke.
Ted has re-constructed a life where he is busy and actively involved in many activities. In Ted's case, the experiences of his past are no longer a forgotten song. He sings melodies from his heart, harmonizing the tunes of emotion, communication and knowledge at a perfect pitch.