Getting His Life Back: From Coma to Full Recovery
March 10, 2023
Veronica Pagani fell to her knees on the streets of New York City when the gravity of the phone call hit her. A police officer was telling her that her husband, Christian Kraus, had been in a car accident and when she asked, “Is he alive?” the officer responded, “I cannot tell you anything.” Frantic, Pagani took a five-hour taxi ride in Friday night traffic from her office in Manhattan to Jersey Shore University Medical Center.
She soon saw her husband and the father of her two children in the ICU with severe brain injuries. Kraus, of Holmdel, was in a coma, unable to respond to anything. The days went on and the prognosis appeared bleak. A ventilator enabled Kraus to breathe. Pagani feared that even if her husband survived, what kind of life would he have?
“It was all like an out-of-body experience,” Pagani recalled.
A Connection of Hope
A week after the accident, a friend who is a doctor told her to call Brian Greenwald, M.D., Medical Director of the Hackensack Meridian JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute’s Center for Brain Injuries. Pagani spoke to Dr. Greenwald, and though her uncertainty about the future remained, for the first time she felt some hope.
“Dr. Greenwald heard the desperation in my voice, and after talking with him I knew he would be committed to helping Christian,” Pagani said. “Dr. Greenwald and everyone at JFK Johnson said, ‘We don’t know the future. But we will do everything we can.’”
A Journey of Recovery
Kraus was transferred to JFK Johnson to begin his journey of brain injury rehabilitation. His treatment began at the Center for Brain Injury’s Brain Trauma Unit. After Kraus opened his eyes, he began to move his limbs. He seemed to respond better when his wife was there, so she stayed beside him as often as she could. Kraus began to recognize family members. Then he could sit up in a wheelchair. He began to walk with a walker. Therapists helped him learn to talk again and to swallow. Each small step pushed his recovery forward.
The rehabilitative care included neuro-recovery medications and therapy from highly specialized physicians and nurses as well as physical, occupational, and speech therapies by therapists with extensive brain injury training and experience. Kraus also was treated by a neuropsychologist and counselor. The Center for Brain Injuries, connected to JFK University Medical Center, provided the medical care Kraus needed as well. When he was ready, his inpatient care was transitioned to the Extended Recovery Unit at JFK Hartwyck at Oak Tree, also in Edison and part of JFK Johnson.
At Hartwyck, Kraus continued his intensive inpatient rehabilitation under the care of his specialized treating team. He began transitioning to the community, such as taking field trips. As the months went on, his wife would take him out for dinner to see if he could adjust to a loud environment.
Kraus recalled being awakened by other patients who were agitated in the middle of the night. “I began to pray for them and feel compassion for the other patients. That was a transition point for me and a realization that I was getting better,” Kraus.
Getting His Life Back
Dr. Greenwald said patients have likened the rehabilitation process to being reborn.
“In the beginning, they can’t walk or talk. They can’t swallow or even sit on the edge of the bed. Our therapists and nurses, many with decades of experience with brain injuries, help our patients learn to live their lives again,” he said.
After discharge from the inpatient program, Kraus joined the outpatient component of the JFK Johnson Center for Brain Injuries. Dr. Greenwald and the outpatient therapists, including vocational therapists, continued his treatment. The goal was for Kraus to become independent and eventually return to work.
“We’re using the latest scientific knowledge to help our patients maximize their recovery,” Dr. Greenwald said. “We think all patients with brain injury deserve the best chance for the fullest recovery possible.”
Today, five years after his accident, Krauss is back at work in finance. He passed the difficult licensing test to qualify individuals as investment advisors or securities agents. And the couple had a third child they named Vittoria, which means “triumphant” in Italian, Pagani’s first language.
Sharing His Experience
Now Kraus has been invited to join the Board of Trustees for the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey.
“I want people to learn from my story,” Kraus said. “It’s a feeling of hope. You can keep fighting and recovery can happen.” He credits the love of his wife, Dr. Greenwald, and the nurses and therapists at JFK Johnson for his recovery.
Dr. Greenwald is Vice President of the Board of Trustees of the Brain injury Alliance of New Jersey.
“It will be exciting to see Christian become a colleague working alongside me to help others with brain injuries,” he said. “His experience will help shape our board and organization to be even better.”
The Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey is a nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of lives of individuals who are living with a brain injury.
Kraus and his wife of 13 years are moving forward with their lives in a way that did not seem possible immediately after the accident. Kraus said he wants to provide hope for others with brain injuries.
Not long ago, the entire family bumped into Dr. Greenwald at a restaurant at the Jersey Shore. Pagani said Dr. Greenwald’s “heart and human touch meant everything to us.” When she introduced Dr. Greenwald to her children, she said, “Here’s the doctor who saved Daddy’s life.”
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our source: Brian Greenwald, M.D.
- Learn more about Hackensack Meridian Health’s brain injury rehabilitation
- To make an appointment with a physician near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.