Wes Brown: Back on the Road Again
Wes Brown was hauling a load of saltwater from an oilfield in East Texas to a nearby disposal site when the tires on the rear axle of his 18-wheeler hit a pothole and bounced onto the shoulder of the road. As he tried to center his trailer, the steer tire on the passenger side hit another pothole, causing the saltwater to sway to the right side of the tank. The force of the motion caused the rig to roll over.
"My gross weight including the truck, trailer and load was around 84,000 pounds, so the roll had a lot of push behind it,” Brown recalls. “I rolled twice. I felt my back break on the first roll, and I remember sliding across the cab and finally coming to rest upside down on the floorboard on the passenger side. When I tried to move, I realized my legs were paralyzed. The truck was a mangled mess – they had to cut the entire roof off to get me out.”
“Everything we did was centered around returning to the community rather than just stabilizing patients for discharge. I spent two weeks working with therapists who matched my personal drive and pushed me when my drive failed.”
Brown was taken by air ambulance to Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport. Within an hour he was in the OR, where neurosurgeons implanted four plates, two rods and eight screws to secure a fracture dislocation of his spine at T11 and T12. During inpatient therapy at LSU, he was told he would never walk again.
Two weeks after the accident, he was transported by ambulance to TIRR Memorial Hermann, where a spinal cord injury team led by Lisa Wenzel, M.D., worked with Brown and his family to develop a treatment plan. An assistant professor in the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Wenzel is a co-investigator in the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network
“When I arrived at TIRR I was surprised to find that it was not a ‘normal’ hospital,” Brown says. “Everything we did was centered around returning to the community rather than just stabilizing patients for discharge. I spent two weeks working with therapists who matched my personal drive and pushed me when my drive failed.”
Wes Brown returns to work as a truck
Brown was discharged on Jan. 29, 2011. “While I can’t say I walked out of the hospital, I did walk not long after my discharge,” he says. “Shortly after I returned home, my mother passed away, which kicked me into high gear. I was determined I wasn’t going to her funeral in a wheelchair. My wife bought me a walking stick, and my brother helped me cut it so it came right to my hip. I used that cane for support and learned to stand by focusing on my left leg. Eventually, I got the muscles working and the feeling back in my right leg.”
A year after the accident, when he returned to LSU for a checkup, Brown was seen by the surgical resident who had cared for him during his stay at the acute care hospital. “She walked into the room and reviewed my chart,” he says. “Then she looked at me and looked around the room for a wheelchair. When she asked me how I got there, I told her I walked. I considered it a crowning achievement to be able show one of the people who told me I’d never walk again that they were wrong.”
He returned to work as a truck driver and heavy equipment operator in 2013. “I am 100 percent positive that I wouldn’t have made the recovery I’ve made without the people at TIRR Memorial Hermann,” says Brown, who is the father of three girls and two boys ranging in age from three to nine. “I didn’t want to give up on getting back to who I was, or on the idea of playing ball with my boys and walking my daughters down the aisle. When I got to TIRR Memorial Hermann, the environment was so different from LSU. I was encouraged to think of doing more, wanting more and not settling for the position I was in. An attitude and work ethic like that is contagious.”