Recovery Process & Jake Today (Keep scrolling to see pictures)
Updated: December 26th,2023 (with more being added soon, & please excuse any typos.
Final copy coming by 2/27/2024 so check back then
My story / WHO IS JAKE….
I, Jake Schonhoft, suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and C1 / C2 vertebrae fractures after falling down very steep concrete stairs on Halloween 2012 (well, the date was October 27th, but we were celebrating Halloween). This was the semester I was visiting campus while working an engineering internship 2 hours east in Fort Wayne, IN before completing my last 2 classes to get a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University in May 2013.
This brain injury 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. And the doctors had to drill an intracranial pressure sensor into my head to monitor/regulate the pressure; too much pressure would have killed me. I also had to be fed through a feeding tube called a G-tube, aka gastrostomy tube. The C1/C2 vertebrae are at the tip top of the vertebrae just below the brain stem so I am lucky this fracture didn’t completely paralyze me.
Side note: Before my time at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, I was first in the ICU at St. Elizabeth East Hospital in Lafayette, IN, then at a long term care hospital in Indianapolis, IN; this hospital included mostly patients who weren’t going to survive but was closer to my home – I was only there for a short period before being transferred to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
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) in early December 2012, I had lost about 70 pounds down to 118 and didn’t have the strength nor balance to walk at first (nor the cognitive ability to think of basic words to communicate). The doctors would ask me every day 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, that I now know is called anosognosia (after guest speaking to Speech Language Pathology students at Purdue, University of Cincinnati, and CU Boulder – since my speech therapists helped me so much). Anosognosia is a neurological condition in which the patient is unaware of their neurological deficit or psychiatric condition.
To test my cognitive abilities, I took an all-day neuropsychological evaluation in January 2013 and scored poorly: a 70 overall IQ and below average in every subject, which is considered severely impaired. 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…at least until engineering school (I studied A LOT at Purdue).
Even after this test showing major issues, I thought I was totally fine, when I had MAJOR cognitive deficits. I had to use a wheelchair to get around, couldn’t do basic math – a subject that WAS easy for me, and one reason why I was studying engineering – socializing (since I couldn’t think of basic words), 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 8 months post brain injury. With all these major changes to my life, it didn’t take a long before major depression set in. With zero hope for my future, I thought about suicide daily…
So I did inpatient speech, occupational, and physical therapies at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital; a hospital I had already spent about 2 months in as a patient from multiple skull fractures after falling out of the back of a pickup truck when I was 4, and had major infections after an appendectomy when I was 10. So I was very familiar with this hospital what was about 45 minutes from my home. To give you an idea of my cognitive ability, I could only name 6/11 commonly pictured items (cat, dog, ocean, tree, bird, etc) so it was obvious I needed to do speech therapy the most.
Scroll down to see images explaining my cognitive deficits and what I did in speech therapy.
I began rebuilding my strength and balance in physical therapy on the elliptical, resistance bands, balance training machines, treadmill (my hands could not leave the rail, or I would fall), 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.
I was released from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital on December 27th, exactly 2 months after my traumatic brain injury, and I continued outpatient speech, occupational and physical therapies at Margaret Mary Outpatient in Batesville, Indiana. I was quickly released from physical and occupational therapies after about another month doing those, but I continued speech therapy well into late summer of 2013.
In March of 2013, I took a driving test to make sure I was safe to drive…and I FAILED. I vividly remember the moment I heard this news, and I began sobbing for one of the first times after my TBI. This was right after my 23rd birthday, and I couldn’t drive a car; therefore, a friend had to continue taking me to speech therapy, and anywhere I needed to go. Depression, hopelessness and insomnia took over my life.
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. 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 and enrolled back at Purdue in August 2013 (looking back, I wasn’t ready whatsoever). I still wasn’t comfortable driving and had major trouble thinking of basic words to conversate with peers…but I tried anyways. I also had major trouble understanding a word any of my professors were saying, as 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 with zero hope for my future.
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 time holistically with eating real whole food and exercising + his constant will to fight inspired me to do everything I could to get my life back. (He was juicing in 2006 before many knew of its benefits, and I will never forget when he told me a ran 1/2 a mile a the gym – he was my idol).
I enrolled in classes once again in January 2014, since 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 to inspire my classmates to never give up (unfortunately was never given this opportunity nor graduated in May 2014).
As the Spring 2014 semester went on, I wasn’t doing too great in school; due to my lingering cognitive deficits, but mainly due to my new found purpose / 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. One gentlemen even brought me a note at the library that read “YOU STORY IS TRULY INSPIRING AND HELPED ME (WAS ONE OF THE THINGS) TO GET THROUGH MY VERY TOUGH TIMES”, after he read my story in the Purdue newspaper; this brought so much joy to my life. With my focus solely on giving back/inspiring others (along with the cognitive deficits), I failed the semester once again, knowing Purdue only allows 3 attempts at the same degree – I would need to change my major, if I failed again.
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 also took another all-day neuropsychological evaluation in summer 2014. which I 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 also was the team leader for my senior design project which was my product idea. I led a team of 4 in the design and construction of a device that allows user to easily attach a poster board to their back (or a GoPro camera) to be a walking billboard that can be adjusted on a gooseneck arm. This was inspired by my difficulty with carrying my poster board around campus (see pics down below for more on this).
After graduating in December 2014, 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. But I knew I had to make money so I began helping my neighbor with her horses & mowing lawns 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 well into 2015.
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, since I tried so hard to get a job yet no one would hire me…until summer 2015.
I took a job in engineering sales, where I sold large pneumatic bulk material handling systems. After about 1 month, my boss took me to the side and said, “We are not sure if you are understanding any of this, and we do not see you provide any value, so we are going to have to let you go.” AKA I was fired.
After this first job loss, I still didn’t give up. I continued working labor jobs in landscaping and at a turkey processing plant and applying to jobs. I stopped counting after 80 interviews yet no job, which let to the depression creeping in. By the summer of 2015, I was about to give up, until an old friend informed me of a job opportunity in CO – I was ecstatic. So I flew out to Colorado, where my older brother was living, and interviewed with them at a Rockies game. After the interview, I didn’t hear back so I was about to give up…until January 2016…
I was offered the construction engineering job in Denver, CO, where my sister had recently moved to as well, and a place I had been to many times to snowboard in the Rockies with the Purdue Ski & Snowboard Club. I was ecstatic, since I had invested 10s of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of time into getting my engineering degree, and the title was Project Engineer. My future looked bright after all!
After making the move to Denver on St Patrick’s Day 2016, I thought I was doing ok. But I quickly realized I was bringing no value to this company, since it was a huge learning curve (I had studied nothing related to construction project engineering), and I was still battling some cognitive deficits. I also HATED working behind a desk, whenever I wasn’t visiting construction job sites. This was noticed by my boss, so, again, he said about the same thing as the last job I lost: “We are not sure if you are understanding any of this so we need to let you go.” AKA I was fired once again.
But I didn’t let this get me down, since my TBI recovery had taught me I can accomplish anything with a positive mindset and being persistent. So, once again, I started applying to every job I could find while also Uber driving to afford the expensive rent in Colorado. I even took a job bartending in May 2016 in downtown Denver; something I had zero experience doing (not sure how I got the job lol). Knowing I needed to find a career job and make more money, I finally accepted a door-to-door sales job selling windows with my older brother.
My older brother, JT, who had been working in sales for years, finally convinced me to give it a try as a junior sales partner selling windows door-to-door that was 100% commission. He was doing well financially doing this, and 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!
At this time, I had recently read the book, “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod (WORTH A READ) and had been listening to many podcasts on personal development and health to help build myself toward the best version of myself. Both the book (along with other books I was reading – see Books / Podcasts page to learn about these) and these podcasts mentioned the power of visualization. So I vividly remember, during one of my fist sales meetings, me visualizing myself in an engineering sales job years after this; since this would give me sales experience and skills to add to my engineering degree (which happened in 2019!)
I worked my butt off and was promoted to a senior-level sales partner (where I also closed sales, didn’t just set them up; like I was doing as a Jr. Sales Partner for over a year). 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 August 2016, I wanted to find volunteering opportunities in bioengineering; since I have an engineering degree that I wanted to use to help people. So I searched for bioengineering professors at CU Anschutz Medical Campus and found one I reached out to. He invited me to join his team with his Bioengineering PhD students who were developing a prosthetic hand. So I attended their brainstorming meetings and assisted the lab director with fabricating the hand components. I loved this experience (scroll down for pics showing more about this), but I realized I am more passionate about helping people one-on-one; therefore, I began searching for volunteer opportunities, where I could help/inspire TBI survivors one-on-one.
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. This aligned with my purpose, and I couldn’t get enough. I was helping with PT for 20 hours a week, as well as meeting with patients to mentor them. As of December 2023, I no longer volunteer with PT, but I do still mentor (I do miss helping patients with PT though).
After selling windows for nearly 3 years exactly, I started applying to technical / engineering sales job; considering I really wanted to use my engineering degree and had visualized myself getting an engineering sales job. Also, this job was 100% commission sales with zero benefits. I was doing well selling windows, but I knew this wasn’t sustainable for the long term.
Long story short, in July 2019, I was offered a technical engineering sales job in microscopy/optics; something I had zero experience in, but, again (from what my TBI I taught me), I knew I could achieve anything. This learning curve was HUGE, but I gave it my all and have hit 100% of my quota 3 of the 4 last years; something only a few sales rep in my company achieve every year.
Side note: while I was interviewing for this job, I read my medical records which actually included the company name for the bronchoscope used to check my airway and lungs (while I was in the induced coma)…THAT COMPANY IS THE ONE I AM WORKING FOR NOW! #fullcircle
While I enjoy configuring/designing, selling, installing, and providing technical support of material science microscopes for engineers, scientists and professors for QA/FA (I love it because I am helping people; something I’ve enjoyed the most since I was a kid), my passion more aligns with helping people with health. So I got certified and took a job leading fitness classes at Chuze Fitness in January 2023, since I used exercise a lot to overcome obesity and depression from my TBI. I loved it so much, I got an additional fitness class coaching job at another gym, F45 in Belmar, CO in July 2023. I do these jobs solely out of my love for fitness and helping people, and I am very fortunate my engineering sales job gives me the free time to do so. So, long story short, I am now working on creating my own holistic health coaching company with a podcast focused on resilience + health, which I have identified as my purpose.
One major highlight of 2023 is I closed on my first house on Feb. 10, 2023 in Morrison, CO (mostly so my dogs have a yard :)) with a garage, yard and full basement. I got a pool table, as my dad loved pool (and so do I), and now I am working on building a home gym to help others improve their lives as well.
I installed most of the gym equipment (see images down below): squat rack with cables, bench and barbells/plates, punching bag and fan bike on 12/10/23, and I am taking steps to build my business that will also include a podcast focused on resilience and health, a cold plunge and sauna, and I will provide personal training and nutrition coaching . For the podcast, I plan to interview others who had to overcome something seemingly life-ending to learn about what they used to get their life back (after I share my story); combined with having on guests to share their expertise in exercise science, nutrition, neuroscience, holistic heath, personal development and more. I think this will help/inspire a lot of people, along with provide life-improving info listeners can use to improve their lives as well. So, if you know anyone who would like to be on it. reach out!
I am early on with this goal, but I am excited for my future and hope to be a source of inspiration for many.
KEEP ON KEEPING ON!
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 AMAZINGG
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)