By: Emily Johnson
On January 23, 2006, Joe Damon’s life changed instantly when a truck slammed into the left side of his car. Damon suffered a traumatic brain injury, or TBI. Joe, a University of Connecticut graduate, spoke to Trinity students during a common hour presentation on February 23rd, where he told an attentive audience that he was “lucky to survive.” Damon also screened the documentary of his journey, made by his son’s friend, a professional filmmaker.
Living and working in Italy at the time, Joe spent about five weeks in a coma after the accident. Damon was hospitalized for three months in Italy before returning home to Connecticut, where he spent two more months at Gaylord, a long-term acute rehabilitation and chronic care hospital. Following his stay at Gaylord, Joe was an outpatient at Easter Seals in Windsor for a year.
Damon had to relearn the most basic of tasks, such as how to hold a fork, write his name, get himself up, go to the bathroom, and remember the day of the week. According to Joe, “every day presented more challenges.” Joe recalled difficult stages of his recovery, including outbursts in emotion, frustration, and depression. When asked about those outbursts in frustration, Joe revealed that it often helped him to stop what he was doing a take a few deep breaths, letting out all of his aggravation.
Joe’s rehabilitation was not easy, nor is it yet complete, but three distinct aspects of his life aided in his inspiring recovery.
Before the accident, Joe was a competitive marathon runner, cyclist, and triathlete. Damon and his wife Lynn would often go for long biking trips around New England, and one of Joe’s most cherished accomplishments was qualifying for and completing the Boston Marathon. When a Trinity student asked about Joe’s lifelong love for such sports and the impact it had on his recovery, Joe responded, “the doctors said being athletic saved my life,” a line that resonated with many of the student-athletes in the room. Joe can now ride his bike again, and activities such as swimming were an important part of his physical rehabilitation.
Perhaps the most emotional part of Damon’s presentation was when he spoke about his family. Married for over twenty-five years, Lynn and Joe are the parents of two grown children, Kate and Paul. Lynn was by Joe’s side through every step of the recovery process, and her on-screen moments in Joe’s documentary brought tears to the eyes of more than one viewer. Said Joe, “when somebody asks me about my past, I become emotional because of the struggles that my family went through.”
Joe’s determination and perseverance are unique and inspiring. In the documentary, daughter Kate described her father as “driven.” According to Joe’s closest friends and family, it was his positive attitude that led him down such a successful recovery path. Damon told the crowd, “through the determination to overcome I made small, steady strides.”
At the conclusion of the presentation, Joe allowed students to ask any questions they had about his accident and the journey that ensued. Damon candidly answered every question that was asked, not wishing to hold anything back.
For the past three years, Joe has helped organize the Brain Injury Alliance of Connecticut (BIAC) Bike-A-Thon. Joe plans to ride in the event, which will be held on May 5 this year.