Updated: June 2019
I, Jake Schonhoft, suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and C1 / C2 vertebrae fractures after falling down stairs on Halloween 2012 (well, date was October 27th, but we were celebrating Halloween); my last semester during my undergrad in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University, which left me in a medically-induced coma for roughly 3 weeks at St. Elizabeth East Hospital in Lafayette, Indiana, although I don’t remember 6 weeks of my life.
Upon wakening from the coma in a hospital bed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Rehab Floor (my first memory at least – I was 22 years old at the time). I had lost about 70 pounds down to 120 and didn’t have the strength nor balance to walk at first. The doctors would ask me everyday why I was there, and (with a tracheotomy in my neck, a neck brace on, and a G-tube still in my stomach), I guess I told them I was visiting someone; this was my brain trying to make sense of what was going on.
To test my cognitive abilities, I took an all-day neuropsychological evaluation in January 2013 and scored poorly: a 70 overall IQ, which is considered severely impaired, when compared to my demographic: a 22-year-old with some college. Common sense tells you: this was not easy for me to see, since I was blessed with a high IQ prior and school always came easy to me.
I did inpatient speech, occupational, and physical therapies. To give you an idea of my cognitive ability, I could only name 6/11 commonly pictured items (cat, dog, ocean, tree, bird, etc – check the picture below to see these deficits in more detail) so it was obvious I needed to do speech therapy the most.
I began rebuilding my strength and balance in physical therapy on the elliptical and BOSU ball at Cincinnati Children’s rehab floor and rebuilding my fine motor and daily living skills (cooking, eating, ordering food, showering – I had to shower with a therapist to make sure I could live alone and not fall and hurt my head again). In speech therapy, I did a lot of memory, reading-comprehension and word-finding exercises and had major issues with them all. If I was ever to get my college degree (my main goal) I know I had to work hard in speech therapy.
Even after this test showing major issues, I thought I was totally fine, when I had MAJOR communication issues, I was in a wheelchair, couldn’t do basic math ( a subject that WAS easy for me and one reason why I was studying engineering), socializing, and just being a member of society. I didn’t even have the communication and word-finding abilities to call and order food from a restaurant. With all these major changes to my life, it didn’t take a long before major depression set in.
I was released from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital on December 27th, exactly 2 months after my traumatic brain injury, and continued outpatient speech, occupational and physical therapy at Margaret Mary Outpatient in Batesville, Indiana. I was quickly released from physical and occupational therapies, but I continued speech therapy well into the the summer of 2013.
I took a driving test with a therapist in March 2013; this test was to ensure my own safety, as well as everyone else on the road, due to my poor reaction time and decision making abilities…I failed this test only to deepen my depression and hopelessness in life – I almost saw no reason to keep pushing on.
I had lost all hope for my future, especially after failing this driving test and dropping out of Purdue University, with just 2 classes left to finish my degree in Mechanical Engineering – depression took over my life. I would lay at home in bed for days, many of which I wouldn’t sleep at all because of severe insomnia. It was extremely difficult to have any will-power at all to do anything with my life, like even bathe or brush my teeth.
As my brain continued to heal, and I started seeing signs of improvements in my memory and thinking abilities – I FINALLY passed my driving test June 2013 – I enrolled back at Purdue in August 2013 (looking back, I wasn’t ready whatsoever). I still wasn’t comfortable driving and socializing with peers, but I tried anyways. I also had major trouble understanding a word any of my professors were saying (I was taking one of my most difficult Mechanical Engineering classes: Machine Design II). Since I couldn’t sleep, socialize, nor even do my school work, I late withdrew and moved back home with my mom in October 2013.
The depression and hopelessness got even worse once I moved back home. I couldn’t even find the strength to get out of bed in the mornings, but I knew I couldn’t give up; I owed it to my father, who I lost to cancer in 2006, and my family to keep pushing. Seeing my dad try to beat cancer the 2nd holistically / his constant will to fight inspired me to do everything I could to get my life back.
I enrolled in classes once again in January 2014 – I was feeling more comfortable driving, remembering words and socializing – I was hopeful to finish in May 2014 and had a dream to give a commencement speech there.
As the semester went on, I wasn’t doing too great in school, mainly due to my new found passion of inspiring people: I began carrying a poster board around campus that read “Free Hugs & Inspiration” to inspire anyone battling hardships in their life (see picture below) – I LOVED hearing people tell me I inspire them and even made the cover of the Purdue newspaper. With my focus solely on giving back, I failed the semester once again, knowing Purdue only allows 3 attempts at a degree.
Once again, I enrolled back at Purdue in August 2014 knowing it was my last chance. I had noticed major improvements in my word-finding, memory, and overall communication abilities – I took another all-day neuropsychological evaluation in summer 2014 and scored a “Superior” overall IQ of 122 – this gave me immense confidence that I could do well that semester and graduate in December 2014, which happened!
I got my Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering on December 21st, 2014 and got the best semester-GPA I’d ever gotten, but I still had a long way to go before I felt my life was back to how it was before my TBI.
I moved back home to southeast Indiana, the Greater Cincinnati Area, with having no idea what my future would look like. I didn’t have a job, even though I had already interviewed with numerous companies yet no job offer. I knew I had to make money so I began helping my neighbor with her horses while applying to HUNDREDS of engineering jobs throughout the US. I had accomplished my first goal of getting my engineering degree, but it seemed like it was a waste of A LOT of time & money, since no one would hire me. It didn’t take long before deep depression set back in…
I still wasn’t getting restful nights sleep and didn’t have many friends left around my small town to socialize with; most of my friends had successful jobs throughout the US. The evil depression inside me told me I should give up; I tried so hard to get a job and no one would hire me….until my big break in 2016.
I was offered a construction engineering job in Denver, CO where my brother and sister lived, and a place I had been to many times to snowboard in the Rockies. I was ecstatic that I would have a future after all, that was even in engineering: I invested so much of my time and money into my engineering degree so it felt great!
After making the move to Denver, I thought I was doing ok – but I quickly realized this job wasn’t for me; my passion wasn’t in construction & sitting behind a desk so it was hard to stay focused. In addition, I was utilizing nothing I learned in school where I studied Mechanical Engineering. My passion is interacting with people and helping them in anyway so sales seemed to be a great option for me. After a few months, I left the job and went back to the drawing board. I knew my resilience (learned from my TBI) and work-ethic would allow me to find a job and succeed.
My older brother, JT, who had been working in sales finally convinced me to give it a try as a sales partner where he worked in direct-to-customer, 100% commission sales . I thought to myself: “If I don’t want to move back home to Indiana, I HAD to give it a try…and try my hardest”.
Sales was tough at first, but I knew it would teach me the necessary communication, negotiation, and persuasion skills to succeed in anything in life – I GAVE IT MY ALL!
I worked my nutt off and was promoted to a senior-level sales partner. This promotion and increase in income gave my confidence that I could do anything and follow my true passion: inspiring and helping others in need at a hospital.
In November 2018, I began assisting patients with physical therapy at Craig Hospital – one of the top brain injury & spinal cord injury rehab hospitals in the nation that has top rehab technology and staff – and became a Peer Mentor to traumatic brain injury patients. I have only been doing this for a few weeks, but I CAN’T GET ENOUGH; it is extremely rewarding to me to give back and inspire patients to work hard; I was in their shoes just 6 years ago so I can understand how difficult life might seem for them.
I am currently focusing on hitting my goals, while (hopefully) making a difference in my patents’ lives at Craig. I recently got involved with the rehabilitation engineering department at Craig, so not only will I be helping patents one-on-one, I will be using my engineering background to assist with designing and fabricating rehab equipment, wheelchairs, etc., making a difference in their lives, indirectly :). I just began trying to help with engineering so I am yet to design / fabricate any projects.
Giving back has always been a HUGE passion of mine, my entire life, and this type of volunteering warms my heart – I look forward to going to Craig 2-3 days / week and seeing my smiling patients :).
You will face hardships in your life; it’s all about what you decide to do after. Be persistent, stay positive, be patient and put out extraordinary effort to reach your goals. You never want to look back and think: “Wow, if only I would have tried my hardest, then I probably would have succeeded, or at least done better.”
If I can fully recover from catastrophic brain damage with ZERO residual issues, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. #NeverEVERGiveUp
*Below are snapshots from my medical records, and the PowerPoint presentation I used when guest-speaking to Speech Language Pathology grad students at Purdue, UofCincy, and University of Colorado; since I did speech therapy for about 10 months). Mind-boggling how I am nothing like this currently; it is like I am talking about a different person…THE BRAIN IS AMAZINGGG*
November 13, 2012
My younger brother, Jake Schonhoft fell down some concrete steps and injured his head. He is currently in an induced coma at St. Elizabeth East in Lafayette, Indiana. We are trying to get him the best care possible with hopes he has no brain damage. At this point we are thinking about transferring him to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. They are world-renowned for their work with brain trauma. As you could imagine, a helicopter ride from Lafayette to Indianapolis is not free and neither are any of his hospital bills.
As anyone who has known Jake for most of his life can attest to, this is not his first hospital trip. He has had so many things happen to him that we could write a book (after this incident we plan to). You also know he would do anything for anyone and has a heart of gold. Jake has all the ingredients to do big things in this world and I (we) shall do whatever it takes to support him.
We Schonhofts have been hit with more health issues than most humans deserve. It’s one thing to lose a loved one (our father in 2006) and it’s another to be hit with a fat bill.
I would love nothing more than to have Jake wake up in perfect health with zero hospital bills. Or at least less than he would have without our help.
Let’s give Jake something great to wake up to!
(Please don’t feel obligated to donate any money. The least you can do is send your thoughts and prayers his way)
-J.T. (Big brother), Amber (Big sister)