Tony Rodriguez, a 20-year-old Marine from Newark, Texas, has always loved life's simple pleasures, including music, playing instruments, and driving. But a sudden car accident changed everything. He lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a tree.
"Thankfully, I wasn't ejected from the car," Tony recalled, though he had no memory of the accident.
The injuries were extensive: hemorrhages in the brain, broken right femur and right humerus, nose and all his front teeth. Indeed, Tony faced extensive physical, cognitive and speech issues. His doctors at Methodist Dallas Hospital diagnosed him with traumatic brain injury and polytrauma (injuries to multiple body parts and organ systems). He was intubated, and over the next few weeks, his hospital care team worked to stabilize Tony.
"I was unable to walk and I was non-weight bearing on the right leg," recalled Tony. "I had changes to my cognition, changes to my memory, [and] my speech was different because of the intubation."
Once Tony was medically stable, his physicians recommended an intensive inpatient rehabilitation program to help him regain his mobility and independence.
For that, Tony chose Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation (BSWIR) – Fort Worth's Day Neuro Program. Upon arrival at BSWIR – Fort Worth Day Neuro, the physician-led rehabilitation team worked with him to implement a treatment plan. Tony's primary goals? He wanted to walk and improve his memory.
First, physical therapy exercises helped him regain his strength and balance so he could begin walking independently. His competitive spirit helped push him through rehabilitation, and he was relentless.
"Pain is weakness leaving the body," he said. "When you're here and you feel pain, just know you're getting stronger. You're not just getting back to where you were before, you're getting better than that."
Understanding Tony's background, therapists worked with him to get back to the activities he normally would need to do. He worked on a "fireman's carry" with his therapist, and, to make the task more challenging, he wore heavy boots and his therapist wore a weighted vest to simulate the weight of a victim he would carry. "I'm walking without any devices or assistance now," Tony shared.
Despite the rigorous aspects of rehab, like the cognitive tests that highlighted his struggle, Tony found moments of fun and motivation. Boxing exercises with the recreation and occupational therapy teams became a highlight. He also found strength in a realization. "I was still using the forearm crutch and there came a point where I really wasn't having to use it, I was just carrying more than anything. I realized then that I was getting stronger and steadier," he recalled. His speech therapists also worked with Tony, providing strategies to increase the rate and volume of his speech.
Tony's family played a pivotal role, supporting him at home and providing transportation. This spirit resonated with Tony's advice to others on a similar path: "Surround yourself with people that can help you. And don't be afraid to ask for help or accept help either."
Reflecting on his time at BSWIR – Fort Worth, Tony described it as "a lot of fun." He added, "It was really encouraging here. They push you, and it makes you push yourself harder."
Now, he has his sights set on getting back behind the wheel and returning to work. Tony offered a last piece of wisdom: "No matter the situation and how bad it looks, there's always a bright side at the end of the rainbow."