Back on the Bike: Patient Thrives After Traumatic Brain Injury

Casey O'Connor (center, t-shirt), his parents and care team.
Casey O'Connor (center, t-shirt), his parents and care team.

April 30, 2016, is a day Casey O’Connor and his family will never forget. While participating in a gravel-road cycling event, Casey lost control of his bike and flipped over the handlebars, leaving him unconscious. The accident occurred in a remote area with no cellphone service near Montreal, Missouri.

Casey was airlifted to University Hospital, where he was treated by staff in both the Surgical Intensive Care Unit and Neurosurgery Intensive Care Unit. Even though he was wearing a helmet at the time of his accident, Casey suffered a traumatic brain injury.

With the help of MU Health Care staff and the continued support of his family, Casey regained his health and strength. Amazingly, less than five months after his accident, he returned to cycling. Casey and his family recently returned to MU Health Care to thank the people who cared for him and to provide perspective on their experience at the hospital.

“I could never thank you enough,” Casey said. “For the rest of my life, this is my motivation to be the best person I can be.”

“If that helicopter hadn’t come to MU, we wouldn’t be talking right now,” said William O’Connor, Casey’s father.

As a Level I trauma center with a multidisciplinary team approach, MU Health Care has the capability of providing total care of every aspect of injury. Casey’s parents credited coordinated care and open communication with Casey’s success.

“The first few weeks here were so critical, but the staff kept everything calm,” William said. “Casey probably wouldn’t have survived if he went anywhere else.”

Premkumar Nattanmai, MD, a neuro-intensivist who treated Casey, said he was “absolutely surprised” by Casey’s recovery.

“When we get patients who come with a devastating neurological injury, the outcome is not always favorable,” Nattanmai said. “It is reassuring to hear from our patients and their families that what we are doing is translating into better patient care.”

What’s next for Casey? He has returned to Austin, Texas, where he works as an artisan baker. While he still plans on biking his 18-mile commute five days per week, he says he’ll take it slow — and get a new helmet.

“I didn’t think I could enjoy riding a bicycle any more than I already did,” Casey said. “But now I do.”