In 2014, Regina and Jim Woodside received an urgent call from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Their son, Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Colin Woodside, was in the emergency room after falling 50 feet while he was rock climbing. Although Colin always wore a helmet while climbing, he took it off this time to retrieve gear at the top of the cliff. The doctors said he had sustained a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) and was unresponsive — but alive.
Regina and Jim were on the next available flight out of San Diego. “We didn’t know if he would ever walk again. We didn’t know if he would talk again…,” Regina remembers. “There was a wonderful doctor in the emergency room, and he said, ‘It’s going to be a while, but he’s going to recover.’”
When Colin woke up, he didn’t know how he got there. Regina made flash cards to remind him every day where he was and what happened so that he could be released from the hospital. Colin started physical therapy and vestibular therapy while learning about TBI recovery through the brain injury education course from the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. His family and fellow Coast Guard members were by his side throughout his path to recovery.
“The support system is critical,” Colin says about his family and friends. “They were there for me the whole process. … Even though they don’t know what’s going on inside, they’re just there for you, and if you have any frustrations you can share it with them.”
Today, not only is Colin walking and talking, but he’s also back on the cliffs climbing rocks. However, because of his experience, he now takes additional steps every time he climbs to protect his head and prevent TBI.
“I always check my partner’s climbing gear. We do a self-check. We always communicate like you have to,” Colin says. “I enjoy [rock climbing] a lot more because I know how dangerous it can be. But then I also know the safety that’s involved and how critical it is.”
Check out A Head for the Future’s tips to prevent TBI during everyday activities and help others understand the importance of protecting their heads. Also visit the “Stories” page to watch videos of other service members and veterans sharing their experiences with brain injuries.