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A Calculated Comeback

  • Date Submitted: Oct 12, 2022

For Nolan Sheow, 22, from La Cañada, California, life was looking up. He had just completed his last year at the University of California at Los Angeles. On January 7, 2022, he went skiing at Heavenly Mountain with friends. On his way back to the parking lot, Nolan lost his footing and slid 125 feet, colliding with trees and rocks before landing headfirst into a large boulder.

He was airlifted by helicopter to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, where physicians diagnosed him with a fractured spine and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Two weeks later, he was discharged and admitted to Casa Colina Hospital for four weeks of inpatient rehabilitation care. He still has no memory of the physical, occupational, and speech therapy he had that month.

Despite the gains he made during inpatient rehabilitation, the severity of his injuries weighed on him as he sat in his wheelchair. Nolan still struggled with balance, standing, and walking. He worried that his future and independence were in jeopardy.

Would he be able to walk down the aisle to accept his diploma in June? Would he ever drive again? Would he pass the two exams that his new investment banking analyst job was contingent upon? He still couldn’t remember how to do basic addition and multiplication, let alone the complex topics he studied as an economics major. He stared at the pages of his 400-page study guide for his financial certification tests with little comprehension.

Two weeks after being discharged from the hospital, Nolan entered the Day Program at Casa Colina’s Transitional Living Center (TLC) for more intensive therapy. There, his speech therapists retaught Nolan basic math skills. They helped fire up his cognition again by working on his memory with flash cards and completing homework to cram for his exams. His therapy included following recipes and listening to inspirational TED Talks. He was showing significant signs of improvement. In June, he passed the exams needed for his employment.

Still, Nolan suffered from constant dizziness and double vision—so much so that his mother had to drive him to Casa Colina for his therapy. The trip each way made him carsick.

Seeing Nolan arriving nauseated each day, his occupational therapists referred him to an optometrist specializing in neurological conditions, who prescribed prism glasses to reset his brain’s perception, so he no longer experienced double vision. Then they helped him with driver simulation training. After eight weeks, Nolan regained his license.

Initially, his physical therapists challenged him with jumping and 30-second jogs on the treadmill, which left him winded and tired. After four weeks, he was able to run a 7-minute mile.

“I appreciated that they didn’t push me too much or too little, but always encouraged me to do better than the day before,” Nolan says. “Building on that progress is what helped me improve and regain all my skills from before.”

After living through a nightmare, Nolan is happy to be living his dream. After passing his certifications, he drove to San Francisco with friends for a graduation celebration. He also moved into a new apartment in Los Angeles—complete with a nice kitchen where he cooks an amazing shrimp scampi that he learned to prepare at the TLC.

Having passed his firm’s month-long training program on Wall Street in New York City, Nolan now works as an investment banking analyst at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Entertainment Group. While the 16-hour workdays are challenging, it’s exactly the life he imagined.