Four years ago, tragedy stuck a Stevenson Ranch family when 21-year-old Adam Stelmach fell 40 feet from the roof of a parking structure at the Westfield Valencia Town Center. Now Adam’s father, Alex, has published a book recounting Adam’s recovery and offering advice to others who are struggling to help a loved one with a traumatic brain injury.
“Adam Reborn: A Family Guide To Surviving a Traumatic Brain Injury” is part journal and part friendly encouragement and advice. As Alex recounts Adam’s grueling journey, he pauses to describe the emotions his family dealt with and offers suggestions to improve the situations.
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“There was no one to say ‘This is what’s coming next,’” said Alex, explaining how he was inspired to write the book, which he began more than a year after Adam’s accident.
In the book, Alex speaks honestly about ethical decisions, the pain of watching Adam go through “dark times,” and the emotional toll on the family. He also offers practical suggestions and raises awareness about medicinal side-effects, nutrition, ventilators, CT scans, health risks while in the hospital, therapy, and the need for the family to remember to take care of themselves.
“The world doesn’t stop for you; the world doesn’t care about your problems,” Alex chuckled as he recounted forgetting to check his mail and said that it is important to remember things like keeping gas in the car, paying the bills, and making sure the cell phone is charged in case of a call from the hospital.
“When it says, ‘dear friend,’ it is kinda like tapping them on their shoulder and saying ‘pay close attention here, because we’re entering an informational zone; pay extra attention here,’” said Alex, describing the meaning behind his common use of “dear friend” in the book.
Alex, who was also caring for his 89-year-old father with dementia at the time of Adam’s accident, speaks candidly about the emotions that he dealt with including wishing he could give up his life for his son and leaving a light on in his son’s bedroom while he was in the hospital.
“I just wanted him to follow the light home,” Alex said as he struggled back tears.
To find out more about the book and to visit Adam’s website, click here.
Adam fell from the roof of the parking lot when he tried to slide down the rail of the staircase. Alex said that paramedics did not expect him to survive; he said that they usually give people who have fallen 15 feet a 50/50 chance of survival.
Adam suffered many injuries including full facial fractures, liver and spleen contusions, and damage to his vision. He was in a coma for three weeks and was in the hospital for months. His injuries were primarily on his left side which resulted in speech difficulties and weakness on the right side of his body.
Alex attributes a large part of Adam’s survival to his physical fitness and football training he received at Hart High School. At points, Adam’s heart rate was dangerously high and Alex believes his son’s physical stamina got him through that and other trying times during physical therapy.
Alex recalled an important point in Adam’s recovery process when his son broke down in tears after three weeks of anger and depression. Crying and holding his weak arm, Adam asked his father what had happened and Alex explained the accident with stick figure drawings on a dry erase board. Though the moment was incredibly difficult for Alex, the nurses encouraged him that Adam’s tears were a good sign in the healing process.
“The stage of him wanting to give up or die is gone and I think a lot of that happened somehow mentally in the hospital when he had that nervous breakdown and the desire came back to live” explained Alex.
Adam is now able to walk, talk, and drive his manual car. He received his AA from College of the Canyons and is now in California State University in Northridge working on his BA in sociology. He works part-time at the take-out counter at BJ’s.
“He looks at his story as his chance to give back. He says, ‘Dad, I made a mistake, but it happened for a reason and whatever that reason is, I’m not sure yet. And maybe I can help some people out,” Alex said, choking back tears and adding, “He realizes things are different. And there are parts of him that are gone forever. But, he’s thankful to be alive.”