In a new book, titled Getting Your Brain and Body Back, former University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) CEO Bradford C. Berk, M.D., Ph.D., reflects on his own spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic. He details his experience – as a doctor and a patient – to create a user’s manual for those suffering from the physical and mental health consequences of acute neurological injury.
“No one is prepared for the life-changing event of spinal cord injury, stroke, or traumatic brain injury,” said Berk. “In an instant, your world is turned upside down, and the future, if you can even picture one, looks terrifying. The reason I wrote this book is to give people all the information I wish I’d known at the time of my accident and beyond.”
There are an estimated 300,000 Americans living with spinal cord injury, and millions more will suffer from a stroke or traumatic brain injury every year, with many experiencing long-term disability as a result.
A bike accident during Memorial Day weekend in 2009 left Berk permanently paralyzed. He describes it as a life transforming episode, as he grappled with not only paralysis and loss of sensation, but also difficulty eating, sleeping, breathing, exercising, having a bowel movement, communicating, and performing many activities of daily living.
The book chronicles his slow-but-steady improvement in regaining many aspects of his prior life, including sports such as cycling and skiing. Berk details his path to recovery, which included daily physical therapy and exercise, assistive devices, and a combination of traditional and Chinese medicine. He also discusses coming to terms with the mental and emotional struggles that accompany the “new normal” of people suffering from acute neurological injury.
“The information in this book is meant to educate and inspire people on their rehabilitation and recovery journey,” said Berk. “This isn’t a prescription—it’s intended to empower patients to have more in-depth conversations with their doctor and therapy team.”
Getting Your Brain and Body Back offers comprehensive guidance from injury to recovery and beyond, including:
- How to deal with grief and trauma in the aftermath of accident or injury—and build resilience as you find your way forward;
- What adaptive devices—for bathing, dining, mobility, and more—will help you enjoy daily life;
- How to prevent and treat secondary health problems of every kind, such as heart, skin, and bladder troubles; and
- Therapeutic approaches from both Western and Eastern medicine to consider for maximum healing and pain relief.
Berk stepped down from CEO of URMC in 2015 to become the founding director of the University of Rochester Neurorestoration Institute. The new initiative builds upon the existing strengths of the Medical Center and University to conduct basic and clinical research in the field, with the goal of becoming a destination for rehabilitation of people with chronic neurologic conditions, and a center for excellence in research on restoration of cognitive, motor, and sensory function.