Edmonton man making 'exceptional' recovery after brain injury

After David Radford completed his dream of touring the world solo on a motorcycle, his life was upended in 2015 by a traumatic brain injury.

Waking from a three-month coma at the University of Alberta Hospital in September 2015, Radford couldn't fathom how he got there.

"When I first came out of the coma I knew there was something wrong with me but I didn't understand what was wrong with me," he told CBC Radio's Radio Active Thursday.

"It's so ironic. On my trip I did 91 countries and 200,000 kilometres solo … but I go back home to Edmonton and end up in a coma."

Radford, who now lives in Thailand, was visiting his parents in Edmonton in July 2015 when, late at night, he fell down a flight of stairs. He hit his head on a corner and lost consciousness.

Radford was rushed to hospital where doctors used the Glasgow Coma Scale to determine the severity of his brain injury. Radford scored a three, the worst possible rating.

"That's imminent death," said Dr. Richard Fox, the neurosurgeon who operated on Radford's skull. "He had fixed dilated pupils which is a very bad prognosis."

"Probably about 60 per cent of people who present like that will die."

To help relieve swelling in Radford's brain, surgeons had to perform a decompressive craniectomy, removing a large portion of his skull. He lived without that portion for weeks until doctors decided it was safe to replace it.

David Radford

Exceptional recovery

The section of skull was replaced in December 2015 and he returned to his wife, two step-daughters and four grandchildren in Thailand 10 days later.

He had some paralysis on his left side, but credits his recovery to his attitude and the help he received from hospital staff.

"The difference between me when I came out of the coma and me now, it's night and day," he said. "I am so grateful to the staff at the hospital because they really put me on the road to recovery."

"My occupational therapist made it very clear that constant repetition is the key. If anything is hard to do, just keep on trying to do it."

"The difference between me when I came out of the coma and me now, it's night and day." - David Radford

Radford says even small changes helped lead him to recovery.

"Since coming out of the coma, I always use bar soap to wash my hair," he said. "Trying to hold onto a slippery bar of soap and wash my hair is incredibly difficult for me. If it's too easy, it's not going to help me."

Fox said he considers Radford lucky.

"He's had an exceptional outcome. Because not only can he work, he's working at an extremely high level," he said.

David Radford

A second chance

Radford has since returned to his job as a help desk support analyst in Thailand.

Although he still struggles with occasional seizures and memory issues, Radford considers his recovery a second chance and he's determined to make the best of it.

"You've got to grab every moment that you have because you never know when it's going to be your last moment," he said. "You have to think and plan for your future, but you can't give up your now."