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HealthWatch: Traumatic Brain Injury

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- A teenage boy suffered a serious brain injury seven years ago in an accident on New Jersey's Route 79. Now he's helping other young people going through similar traumas. It's his way of giving back, Dr. Max Gomez reports.

Rehab Counselor Matthew Peltz is back at Children's Specialized Hospital in New Jersey. He was once a patient, but now he works there. "I've never been happier than when I'm helping patients and I see myself in each and every one of the patients I help on a daily basis," he said.

Matthew was hit by a van when he was 16-years-old. He was in a coma for weeks with a traumatic brain injury. He went from being a star athlete and student to re-learning how to walk, talk and and eat on his own.

Now 23 and a graduate of Penn State University, Matthew works as a rehabilitation aide.  He helps kids who are going through what he did.

"He's just a very happy and inspiring person," said 14-years-old Leighton Heisey.

Heisey was injured in a horseback riding accident last year. Matthew helps her with her schoolwork in a way the other teachers can't.

"They don't really know what we're going through, but Matt does," she said.

Despite all his progress, Matthew still struggles with his brain injuries, specifically his short term memory, but he's learned to compensate.

"Things used to come to me really quickly, and now it takes me a little bit longer," Peltz said.

Matthew won't give up. He has applied to graduate school where he hopes to  become a neuropsychologist so he can continue his work with patients like him.

Traumatic brain injuries or TBIs can be the cruelest of injuries. The victim often looks perfectly normal but his brain simply doesn't work or process information the way it used to, including some things you wouldn't think of.

Matthew, for example, also had to re-learn patience and impulse control.

The fact that he's walked in their shoes makes him invaluable as a teacher for other TBI patients.

So has Matthew recovered as much as he's going to or will he keep getting better? When Dr. Gomez was studying neurology back in school, they were always taught that whatever function a TBI patient or a stroke patient recovered in the first year after the injury was all he or she would ever get back.

However, now it's known that the brain has an amazing capacity to keep healing, actually re-wiring itself to compensate for the damaged areas, and this can go on for years afterwards.

So it's important that these patients continue to work at their rehab.

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