The dramatic story of one man’s recovery offers new hope to those suffering from concussions and other brain traumas
In 1999, Clark Elliott suffered a concussion when his car was rear-ended. Overnight his life changed from that of a rising professor with a research career in artificial intelligence to a humbled man struggling to get through a single day. At times he couldn’t walk across a room, or even name his five children. Doctors told him he would never fully recover. After eight years, the cognitive demands of his job, and of being a single parent, finally became more than he could manage. As a result of one final effort to recover, he crossed paths with two brilliant Chicago-area research-clinicians—one an optometrist emphasizing neurodevelopmental techniques, the other a cognitive psychologist—working on the leading edge of brain plasticity. Within weeks the ghost of who he had been started to re-emerge.
Remarkably, Elliott kept detailed notes throughout his experience, from the moment of impact to the final stages of his recovery, astounding documentation that is the basis of this fascinating book. The Ghost in My Brain gives hope to the millions who suffer from head injuries each year, and provides a unique and informative window into the world’s most complex computational device: the human brain.
Elliott, an associate professor of artificial intelligence at DePaul University, delivers a harrowing account of a 13-year-long recovery from a disabling concussion that changed his life, and celebrates the science that came to his rescue. The journey of recovery began more than two years after an auto accident, but Elliott's "sense of isolation" grew early on, he writes, when an emergency room doctor declared that "everything looks fine" even though he was barely functional. Elliott couldn't move without someone commanding him, had difficulty making simple choices, and was unable to do more than one thing at a time. "I grew quite crafty about avoiding cognitive and sensory activities that drained my batteries," he writes. The real recovery started through his partnership with Donalee Markus, a cognitive specialist, and Deborah Zelinsky, an optometrist who focuses on neuro-optometric rehabilitation. Building on recent research into brain plasticity, the doctors taught Elliott mental "exercises" and the use of a special set of corrective lenses he calls "brain glasses" to regain cognitive functioning. In time, he rediscovered "the me that could think, and feel," declaring: "I was, at last, and once again, human." Elliott's transformative tale will be invaluable for patients with traumatic brain injury, families, and caregivers.