Brain Injury: Andrew Heytow's Story - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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Andrew Heytow's Story

In August 2005, Andrew Heytow was in the prime of his life, working as an executive at a major Chicago bank while also taking the time to referee his son’s youth soccer league. He also nurtured his love of flying with helicopter lessons, even purchasing a flight simulator for his home so that he could practice. After taking several lessons and logging many hours of training, Heytow was two weeks shy of taking his final test when his helicopter went down in a crash after a mechanical failure.

The crash caused serious, extensive injuries, including several broken bones in his back, ribs and foot, along with internal bleeding in his stomach, spleen, appendix and lungs. He also was left with a traumatic brain injury.

Eight days after his accident, Andrew’s condition was finally stabilized and he was transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) to embark on his rehabilitation journey.

During his five week inpatient rehabilitation stay at RIC, he started to come around from his brain injuries and began the process of adjusting to his impaired short term memory.

"I don't remember much," said Andrew. "Only that I was frustrated as to why I couldn't walk or why I was so limited in everything I did."

Starting over

Physicians, nurses, and therapists helped Heytow sit up, talk and walk again. It was all a very hazy time for him as his brain was healing and he had to re-learn the basics.

Although Heytow regained a lot of basic abilities after five weeks of inpatient rehabilitation, he still was not in a position to accomplish his biggest goal – to return to youth soccer as a referee and enjoy an active life with his son and wife. Additionally, he continued to have weakness, pain and coordination issues – difficulties that he was confident about fixing.

He enrolled in RIC's day rehabilitation program at Northbrook, close to his home and son’s school.

"I chose the Northshore location so that I could pick my son up from school after I was done for the day,” said Heytow. “The RIC staff’s limitless flexibility made sure that I did not miss any of my son’s football games in his first season.”

At RIC Northshore, Heytow worked with physical therapists by doing exercises to strengthen his legs and regain balance as well as walking on the treadmill to build endurance.

“Andy’s work ethic, open-mindedness to new ideas and positive attitude made him a great fit for the day rehab program,” said Kelly Crossley, DPT, Heytow’s primary physical therapist in the program. “He demonstrated a strong commitment to getting better from day one and was very supportive and encouraging to the other patients in the program.”

He worked with occupational therapists on functions he would do everyday, including working on a computer, preparing meals and organizing. With the help of speech language pathologists, he was also able to regain his short-term memory skills, all in all, fine-tuning everyday functions that he was now able to perform for himself.

As part of day rehabilitation at RIC, vocational rehabilitation counselors met with Heytow to discuss his goals for returning to work. Counselors helped to identify possible challenges and ways to work around those hurdles, making his return to work less stressful. He then returned to work two days a week and continued with day rehabilitation the other three days.

"RIC gave me back the opportunity to be me"

Now, Heytow has returned to work full-time and continues enhancing his physical condition with physical therapists at RIC's outpatient rehabilitation program close to his downtown office. He's using the pool for aqua therapy and the outpatient gym to gain even more strength.

"RIC gave me back the opportunity to be me," said Heytow, "I have returned to the things I love doing: working, spending time with my family and being active. It is my hope that with continued outpatient therapy, I'll be able to continue returning to more of these things."

Not only has Heytow started running again, but he has achieved his biggest goal of getting back on the soccer field. Recently, he was also able to get back into a helicopter and fly for the first time since the accident, finally making peace with his fear.