May 31, 2019
Ritesh Dilipan is no stranger to near-death experiences. At 34 years old, he has now had two major brain injuries which have required months of rehabilitation. Undeterred by the fact that both injuries involved such a vital asset in his ability learn and gain knowledge – his brain – Ritesh never stopped reaching for his academic goals. His thirst for knowledge and passion for environmental engineering drove him to accomplish great things in the face of great adversity.
The Cards Dealt
The first injury came at the age of 10 while living in India. During a large family gathering to celebrate the Indian New Year, Ritesh and his friends did what many 10-year-olds do, they decided to see if they had any super powers. They didn’t. Attempting to jump from one rooftop to another, Ritesh missed his landing and hit his head with such force that he gave himself a blood clot in his brain and a month-long stay in the hospital. Thankfully, Ritesh made a full recovery.
Fast forward 15 years and Ritesh has discovered an interest in environmental engineering while working on a national project developing carbon fibers in India. This interest leads Ritesh to leave his home country in the pursuit of furthering his education. After 25 years of living in India and a 26-hour flight from the other side of the world, he arrived in Lubbock, Texas. Ritesh earned his Master’s degree from the University of Texas Tech in environmental engineering, but he decided to take his scholarly goals out of this world by pursuing a Doctorate degree focused on wastewater recycling for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to use on the International Space Station.
"This experience has taught me to adapt to the cards I’ve been dealt and not fight the cards themselves."
Just three weeks after celebrating his 32nd birthday and before he could finish his doctorate degree, Ritesh was rear-ended by a drunk driver. As a result, he suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and was in a coma for several weeks. Doctors gave him a very low chance of survival and his family was given the option to pull the plug on the machines that were keeping Ritesh alive. However, his family wasn’t ready to give up on him. Miraculously, Ritesh awoke from his coma.
Speech Therapy and Rehabilitation
For the next 18 months, Ritesh worked tirelessly to relearn how to walk, talk, swallow, and regain the use of the right side of his body, but for a man whose goal of earning his third degree was just cut short, it was his mind that he so desperately wanted back.
"It is one thing to recover physically, it is another to be able to convey your message."
At Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation – Dallas, Ritesh worked with speech-language pathologist Dawn Hannsman, who helped him improve his memory and cognitive skills. A traumatic brain injury can have a dramatic impact on communication skills. For Ritesh, his mind was able to put together thoughts, but before he could speak them they would become jumbled or lost. Through speech therapy, he was able to brink his thoughts and words back in line with one another.
The Sky Is The Limit
Ritesh completed his dissertation and defended his thesis that proposes a substitute for the current chemical treatment of wastewater aboard the International Space Station (ISS). In December 2018, Ritesh graduated with a Doctorate of Philosophy in Civil Engineering. But he’s not done yet. Ritesh hopes to build on the knowledge and experience he’s gained through this journey and channel that into his goal of creating a sustainable environment for all. Ritesh credits his incredible comeback to the love and support of his family, without which he says none of this would have been possible.
"My journey so far has made me realize that one does not give up if one finds oneself at odds with the universe."
To learn more, visit our speech therapy page or contact us with any questions you may have. To learn how our speech-language pathologists are helping patients with Parkinson's Disease, check out our Living Loud with Parkinson's article about our Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) program.
Ritesh Sevanthi, PhD
TBI Survivor and Former BSW Rehab Patient
Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation