‘Practice got me in, practice will get me out’: A Liberty Lake man’s recovery from traumatic brain injury

“He found it in the back right corner behind a trash can,” Anthony Guastella, a Liberty Lake resident, casually mentioned on the short walk from his front yard to his garage.

The ‘it’ Guastella refers to is a hook that now sits almost insignificantly on a shelf in his garage.

“That’s the catch,” Guastella says while holding it.

It’s a hook that no longer serves much of a purpose besides healing.

“What do you think when you see this hook now?” I asked Anthony.

He pauses for a second, a slight grin spreading across his face, “You know, I have some contractor friends and they’re like, ‘Oh, you must have that anchor hook in there,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, now you tell me,'” jokes Anthony. “I don’t know if I’m going to frame it or something.”

In December 2020, with the gyms closed due to COVID, Anthony went through what had become a normal routine for him, working out in his garage before dinner but unbeknownst to Anthony, just above where he was doing a lat pulldown was this little catch.

And this hook could no longer hold and broke violently.

“I really wasn’t in pain,” Anthony said of his initial reaction. “It (the hook) must have hit me pretty hard because it broke my skull.”

Anthony was conscious but unable to move.

“I lost all motor function on the left side of my body,” Anthony recalled. “I was trying to get my bearings and I heard liquid. Then I looked up and saw the blood flow.”

At that moment, still unsure of exactly what had happened, Anthony called for his wife, who called 911.

“I told her what I was doing and she said, ‘Well, the catch is off’.”

Anthony spent nine days at Sacred Heart, where he had a tube inserted into his skull to drain accumulated fluid, followed by major surgery.

“Traumatic brain injuries are very different for people,” said Dr. Frank Jackson, Medical Director of the Brain Injury Program at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute. “He had complete weakness on the left side of his body. At first he couldn’t move his left arm and leg.”

dr Jackson and his team laid down the therapeutic blueprints for Anthony’s recovery.

“He was an energetic person and that really helped propel his recovery forward,” said Dr. Jackson.

After 18 days at St. Luke’s, Anthony was released to continue his long road to recovery. It was a journey, like any journey, that had to begin with a single step.

“I was just determined to go again,” Anthony said.

In that determination, Anthony found an old friend.

“Training got me into it, training will get me out of this,” Anthony said, laying out the motto of his recovery.

In late March, fittingly for Brain Injury Awareness Month and 15 months after his potentially life-changing injury, Anthony had his final physical therapy session.

“I’m pretty much back to full strength,” Anthony grinned. “I had a little graduation party. They[hisphysicaltherapists_mademealittlecapandgownthatsaidPTGraduatewithstreamers”

While most of Anthony’s workouts are in the gym these days, you can still find him occasionally in his garage – back on the horse, so to speak – with that hook in the background.

“It wouldn’t dictate how I would live the rest of my life,” Anthony said.

A puny hook whose purpose now is perspective.

“I leave it there as a reminder not to take anything for granted,” Anthony said.

That Brain Injury Association of America says Every 9 seconds someone in the United States suffers a brain injury 3.6 million people suffer an acquired brain injury each year, and at least 2.8 million suffer a traumatic brain injury.

“People with brain injuries are often described as ‘the walking wounded,'” said Dr. Jackson. “Often their physical function can be spared or restored and they can walk around, but their cognition or thinking lags behind and it’s these silent symptoms of things like judgment or memory that can really impact people’s lives and jobs.”

The BIA estimates that at least 5.3 million Americans, 1 in 60 people, are living with a disability caused by a traumatic brain injury.

dr Jackson and the BIA both agree that falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury, which is why Dr. Jackson recommends that if you are an older adult experiencing falls, please let someone know. Talk to your family or doctor about what can be done from a medical or logistical perspective.

And if you fall or hit your head, get a doctor to check you out, even if you feel fine.

“I’ve seen a lot of people with subdermal hematomas, but the idea is that it could take a few days for this blood to build up, and then they (the patient) could be in real trouble,” said Dr. Jackson.

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