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Brain Injury: My Road To Recovery - 'Time Is Of The Essence'

BOSTON (CBS) - If you were to ask 10 people on the street what TBI is, you'd be hard pressed to find even one person who knows the answer.

TBI stands for traumatic brain injury.

I've been recovering from one for the past six months.

Last July, I tumbled from my very old, somewhat rusty, yet trusty bicycle. It was the first day of my two-week summer vacation on Nantucket.

I remember nothing of that day, or the 8 days in the hospital that followed. However, one of the first responders to the scene, Nantucket police officer Keith Mansfield, later filled me in on some of it.

"You were on the ground, very injured and definitely not with it, and pretty much what we're trained is, if it's an issue like that, time is of the essence," Mansfield said.

Listen: Mary Blake: My Road To Recovery - Part 1


Dr. Tim Lepore, general surgeon at Nantucket Cottage Hospital, deals with the so-called 'golden hour of trauma' too. He recalled the first time he saw me.

"When I first met you, you were not particularly talkative," Lepore joked.

"I had heard there was a very bad bike accident, and since my office is about 50 feet from the emergency room, and my home is about 75 yards from the emergency room, I'm always here. When you came in, the EMT's had done a tremendous job in protecting your neck and immobilizing you, but once we saw the CAT scans and saw the number of problems that you had, we felt it was very necessary to get you to a higher level of care."

Boston MedFlight was instrumental in getting me to that higher level of care.

Now in its 27th year, Boston Medflight is not-for-profit, and works with all of the major medical adacemic centers in Boston.

"I fondly, often say that we're the only successful co-operative venture between them," said Suzanne Wedel, Chief Executive Officer-Medical Director of Boston MedFlight.

"Our mission is to take the sickest patients and link them with the resources they need." She added, "I often say one thing all of our patients have in common is that when they woke up in the morning they never knew they were going to need our services."

She is so right about that.

Boston Medflight took me by helicopter to Boston Medical Center in record time.

Dr. Lepore notes, "When it works right, it's sweet." He says on proverbial dark and stormy nights, he's had to take out the seats of a Cessna 402 for patient transport, or wait for Coast Guard assistance.

Fortunately, I had favorable conditions and a 'flying ICU' with John Pliakas on board.

I met him last October and it was an emotional greeting for me. I asked him if he was the one responsible for keeping me stable. "More or less," Pliakas joked. " I was the one keeping you out of trouble."

Pliakas, my critical care transport nurse, escorted me on an extensive tour of Boston MedFlight's Bedford operation that October day.

Listen: Mary Blake: My Road To Recovery - Part 2


The Bedford facility is one of their three bases. CEO Suzanne Wedel explained Boston MedFlight provides not only helicopter service to patients who require transport, but they have jet and ground capabilities too.

"You hold the life versus death, sort of in the palm of your hand, and the choices that we make is the difference between life and death and good outcome and bad outcome, so attention to detail, attention to safety and attention to doing everything right to give you the best chance is what we bring to the table," she said.

I confess tears welled in my eyes upon hearing that.

Another emotional meeting took place earlier in my recovery, when I met Dr. Eric Mahoney, trauma acute care surgeon at Boston Medical Center.

I don't know how, but I recognized him, even though I have no memory at all of my hospital stay.

"During your evaluation, what you may not know is we actually had some signs and symptoms that there actually may be pressure developing inside your skull that was causing pressure on your brain that could be emergently life-threatening," Dr. Mahoney explained.

"So we did give you medication to help prevent some of the swelling of your brain, that if left unchecked, could actually go on and be immediately life-threatening. "

Simply put, Dr. Mahoney and the BMC team saved my life, something Dr. Mahoney wouldn't hear of.

"Thank you, but you did all the hard work," he said.

While I survived the critical early phase of traumatic brain injury, I slowly became aware of the other stages that follow.

Dr. Jim Hosapple is chief of Neurosurgery at Boston Medical Center.

" Now you're grappling with the fact that your integrated circuits, so to speak, have been damaged," he said. "We don't have tools at the moment to either replace those components or encourage them to function again normally. We are very much in the dark on this."

However, there are rehabilitative and support services available.

Details of my rehab therapy, how a bike helmet might have made a tremendous difference and fellow TBI patients' recovery stories are coming up all this week.

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