On the night of Sept. 22, 2011, James Durham was on his motorcycle in San Antonio, headed home after an employee dinner. “I was about two miles from home. A woman was stopped at a traffic light but didn’t have her blinker on so it seemed that she was trying to make a U-turn,” says Durham, a Dallas native who had moved to San Antonio a month earlier to work at an apartment complex his family helped manage. “When she pulled away from the light, she headed for the access road and T-boned me.”
The force of the impact threw him off his bike and into a light pole on the edge of the overpass, causing his helmet to fly off and land 200 yards away. The driver of the car behind him called 911 and asked for air ambulance transport to San Antonio’s University Hospital. When the Durhams arrived in San Antonio from Dallas, they learned that their son had a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), skull fractures, multiple facial fractures including both eye sockets, a burst spleen, a broken left leg and a severely damaged left eye and optic nerve that left him blind in that eye. They also learned that his prognosis was not good. He underwent multiple surgeries, including removal of part of his skull to reduce pressure on the brain stem caused by swelling, and remained in a coma for five weeks.
“Within 24 hours of the wreck, the doctors told my parents there was nothing else they could do – you just have to pray,” the 26 year old says. “My family stayed with me and kept talking to me and praying for me, and one day, spontaneously, I woke up. Still, the doctors didn’t think I’d ever be able to walk, talk or even remember anything.” After he regained consciousness at the end of October, he was admitted to TIRR Memorial Hermann, where he spent the next month. During therapy he wore a helmet to protect the part of his brain where skull had been removed. “The staff at TIRR is amazing,” he says. “When I told them I didn’t want to be in a wheelchair, they taught me how to walk. They taught me how to read, write, think and eventually come back to the life I knew before. The helmet I wore during therapy represents a huge chapter in my life. My doctors, nurses and therapists all signed it, and I have it framed in my house.”
After he left TIRR Memorial Hermann, Durham returned to San Antonio to have the missing piece of his skull replaced, and then went home to Dallas where he was in outpatient therapy for six months. During therapy, he began to take college classes, to drive again and to bring an inspiring positive energy to others in therapy. After rehabilitation, he spent time with his family in a home they own in Panama City Beach, Florida, and eventually asked to stay. He enrolled in Gulf Coast State College.
During his first two years of recovery, Durham graduated with an associate’s degree, presented the commencement speech at graduation, worked as a volunteer at TIRR Memorial Hermann with brain-injured patients and their families and was accepted into Florida State University Panama City. He also gave presentations to college faculty, nursing students, local publications and began representing and working with a local TBI facility. Today, Durham continues his work with TBI survivors at Second Chance of Northwest Florida, and also serves as a mentor for young teens in the Bay County area. “It was always my goal to return to school, but I wasn’t sure it would happen,” says Durham, who will graduate in winter 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in psychology. “Since my wreck I like to talk and spread the truth about God and help other TBI survivors. Communication is a natural for me and psychology helps me learn more about my brain and how to interact with people. My main goal now is to end the silence of TBI, not only in America but worldwide.”
To that end, he started an organization called TBI One Love. The organization’s website provides information about TBI prevention, treatment and support, and offers a forum for others recovering from TBI to share their stories. To access it, visit tbionelove.com. In 2015, Durham took his place on the TIRR Memorial Hermann Wall of Fame, which he describes as a “great motivation. We saw that wall when I was a patient. The photos and stories give so much hope to patients and families. TIRR Memorial Hermann took care of my family and me, and the bond we have with that hospital will never fade. It’s more solid than concrete. “I’m blessed to remember everything that happened before and as a traumatic brain injury patient,” he adds. “I hope to inspire others to know that anything is possible and everything can have a positive outcome. If you love the life you live, your life will love you right back.”