Reinhardt's Recovery a Triumph of Spirit
Sep. 17, 1994
LITTLETON, Colo. (AP) _ Doctors said Ed Reinhardt probably wouldn't survive the head injury he received on the football field. If he did live, they said, he likely would be in a vegetative state.
Ten years later, Reinhardt walks, talks, shoots baskets, plays pool and helps coach a college basketball team.
While the former University of Colorado tight end still struggles with the effects of the severe brain injury in a game against Oregon on Sept. 15, 1984, he has made a remarkable recovery, living a life no one would have predicted.
Reinhardt's story is a triumph of the human spirit - by him and by his family and the hundreds of volunteers who pushed him through tough therapy sessions.
Reinhardt, 29, sang the national anthem before Colorado's season opener this month at Folsom Field. He belted out the lyrics without hesitation in a pleasing baritone, bringing cheers and applause even from the press box, where such unbridled emotion is discouraged.
The Colorado team still was in its locker room at the time, to coach Bill McCartney's relief. ''I would have wept, I'm sure,'' McCartney said.
Twice a week, Reinhardt helps coach the Metro State women's basketball team, duties that will escalate to five days a week in mid-October.
His day remains filled with six hours of therapy - exercises to improve his sight (he has double vision and loss of some peripheral vision); speech therapy (he speaks mostly in one- or two-word sentences); and drills on reading, writing and computer skills.
The injury paralyzed his right side, and three times a week he has physical workouts to help strengthen his right leg and arm. He walks with a limping, lurching motion, and his right hand is frozen in a fist.
It's a grueling regimen he has long since grown tired of, but for all his limitations, he retains a zest for life.
When he learned this week that his mother, Pat, would be out of town, he turned to his father, Ed Sr., and proclaimed, ''Drink beer and play pool 3/8''
Laughing, his father said, ''I can't believe you said that. You just blew it.''
His mother, feigning disapproval, said, ''Now I'm going to have to cancel my trip.''
To appreciate how far Reinhardt has come, one has to understand where he's been.
A strapping 6-foot-5, 235-pound sophomore, Reinhardt was the nation's leading receiver after catching 10 passes in the 1984 opener. The following week, at Oregon, he made a 19-yard reception and was tackled by two defenders, his head jerking back slightly.
A blood vessel had burst in his brain and he lost consciousness. Within hours he underwent surgery at Eugene's Sacred Heart General Hospital to remove a blood clot from the surface of the left side of his brain.
The surgeon, Dr. Arthur Hockey, said the kind of damage Reinhardt incurred results in a 90 percent mortality rate.
Additional surgery was required to reduce swelling in the brain.
Reinhardt lay in a coma for 62 days, his weight dropping to 161 pounds.
''Ed was truly dying three times,'' his mother said. ''First from the initial injury, then from the brain swelling, which was just unbelievable, and then from a severe case of pneumonia.
''We thought he was allergic to penicillin, which the doctors wanted to administer for the pneumonia. Finally, they said they had to give it, there was no other choice. That's when they said we might want to think about Ed being an organ donor. It turned out he wasn't allergic.''
A month later, Reinhardt was transferred to the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, finally emerging from the coma but unable to speak and paralyzed on his right side. The Reinhardts were told their son, with luck, might eventually be able to live in a wheelchair.
In November, Reinhardt was moved to Craig Hospital, which has a nationally known rehabilitation program for people with head injuries.
The following spring, the Reinhardts, desperate for more intensive therapy, learned about the Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia.
''It was just a godsend for us,'' the elder Reinhardt said. ''At the time he was coming out of Craig, we had no idea what to do.''
''The therapy that had been suggested for Ed seemed so minimal,'' said Pat, a nurse. ''It was physical therapy only three hours per week.''
The program suggested by the institute involved ''patterning.''
''Ed had to go back to the basics,'' his father said. ''As a baby, you learn to crawl on your stomach, then creep and then walk. If you lose that, the only way to relearn it is to have someone pattern you, to retrain the brain.''
The Reinhardts enlisted more than 100 volunteers, who showed up at their Littleton home in groups of five, for one-hour sessions five times a day beginning at 6:30 a.m. and concluding at 9 p.m. They moved Reinhardt's limbs and his head as he slowly began to learn to crawl again.
''These people, they just never gave up on Ed,'' Pat said.
Progress was incremental, but soon Reinhardt was crawling on his own, traversing his back yard in knee pads and elbow pads, covering the equivalent of 40 football fields a day. Weight training finally gave him enough strength in his right leg to begin walking.
He is able to shoot a basketball, although awkwardly with his left hand. He dresses himself, feeds himself and makes his bed. He goes to restaurants and movies and talks on the phone, even though he continues to have difficulty forming sentences. He is inquisitive, repeatedly asking what certain words mean.
Despite his speech problem, Reinhardt narrated a 12-minute video he made for a fitness class he attended at Metro State.
The Reinhardts retain a special bond with the people of Eugene for their assistance and compassion in the days following their son's injury. Their youngest son, Matt, now plays football for Oregon. Another son, Tom, chose to play at Colorado the year after the injury.
This fall, Reinhardt and his parents plan to attend two Oregon football games.
McCartney shakes his head in wonder at Reinhardt's recovery.
''It just testifies to the cohesiveness of that family and to their faith in God,'' he said, ''because they have gone way above and beyond what might normally be expected. I saw them take a chunk out of his skull the size of my fist. To come from that moment to all the way where he is, it's just wonderful.''
Pat Reinhardt said media coverage of her son's ordeal has put her in contact with other relatives of brain-injury victims.
''I like to give a message of hope,'' she said. ''We visit people in the hospital and we say, you know, it looks pretty bleak now, but things are going to change.''
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