HOUSTON - Brad Gowan, a Texas A&M student from Houston, grew up snowboarding on the slopes.
"Kind of selfishly, I've always thought of myself as a really good snowboarder, but hey - accidents happen," exclaims Brad.
Do they ever! Brad was having the time of his life in Keystone, Colorado with his group from A&M called StuMo or Student Mobilization. The interdenominational ministry helps students grow in their faith.
Back in January, Brad took off to Keystone to go snowboarding with a group from StuMo.
On the day that would essentially change his life forever, he got up and spent two hours with his Bible studies, twice as much as his typical hour. He was busy studying Revelations and notified his friends to head to the mountain without him, and he'd catch up.
He eventually did and was having fun, as a skillful snowboarder. At least his 10th season on the mountain, he thought he was ready for any challenge, but then, the unthinkable happened.
Several leaders from StuMo were seconds behind Brad. One of them was ready to help when the white snow transformed into a blackout for him.
"She had to dig me out of the snow. No one saw it happen, but a lot of people heard me hit the tree," states Brad.
Brad Gowan, a Houston native studying at TAMU, suffered a catastrophic injury in a snowboarding accident.
Medics carefully transported Brad's lifeless body by air to a high-level trauma center near Denver.
His parents, at home in Houston, got the terrifying phone call.
"Brad's been in a bad snowboarding accident and it's really bad, they think it's really bad. He hit a tree in a wide-open run with moguls and there had been a lot of powder from a lot of snow from the night before, and they guess he hit a mogul and lost control," explains Brad's loving mother, Whitney. "There was also a third person they called an angel because she was a mom and she didn't have her kids with her, but she had everyone remain calm and told the two Aggie StuMo leaders to keep him flat, and she said they needed to take his helmet off carefully to get snow off his face, he was unconscious."
Brad spent three-and-a-half weeks there fighting for his life at the Level 1 Trauma Center, where they treat some of the most serious skiing accidents in Colorado.
"Once we knew that Brad was going to live, we didn't know how his outcome was going to be, but we needed to get him to rehab," says Whitney. They wanted the best and believed that was back home at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
Brad Gowan says he doesn't remember the flight to Houston or some of the early recovery time ahead of the rigorous rehab at Memorial Hermann.
Brad doesn't remember any of that recovery time, not even his flight back to Houston, to begin rigorous rehabilitation.
We got to witness the last day of Brad's rehabilitation, which included a presentation to some of his therapists to help recall details and work on his speech. He showed photos of his accident and explained what happened.
"I had a subarachnoid hemorrhage, subdural hematoma basilar skull fracture, and an external ventricular drain and a tracheotomy, so I could breathe on my own and a PEG tube, so that's what I was fed through," states Brad.
He continually works to fight short-term memory loss. Brad has been able to look back at his journal from the fateful day of his accident and see what he was studying in the Bible and what his thoughts were about it.
"It's cool to see on literally such a traumatic day, I was putting God first," says a smiling Brad.
Brad and his family have gotten close to his tough, yet tender-hearted team, at TIRR Memorial Hermann. They taught him life-changing skills, like how to walk again.
"Seeing him today, graduating from the program is a really loud testament and testimony of his hard work and the great support he got from his family to get here. It hasn't been easy for him. There were some days that were really tough for him, but through all of his sessions, he worked really, really hard," says Veronica Garcia-Lechuga, a Speech Language Pathologist with TIRR Memorial Hermann's Challenge Program.
It's a comprehensive program that helps people who've suffered from brain injuries regain their skills, and they make sure to celebrate milestones along the way to encourage patients. Brad's loving family and therapists all got to witness his transformation, moving from inpatient to outpatient therapy at TIRR, and from taking tiny baby steps to performing wide strides.
"It is honestly a medical miracle! It's amazing what teamwork and hard work can really lead to. It's bittersweet, because sad for us that we will not get to work with him, but at the same time, happy for him because he's so young and has such a long, full, and healthy life ahead," Veronica says. "He could have easily said, 'I quit. I'm done with therapy,' but instead, he persisted! It's amazing what teamwork and hard work can really lead to plus the support his family gave him, his mother was such a strong advocate for him."
Brad's family and the therapists he has worked with the past few months all got to witness his memorable milestone at TIRR: him ringing the bell to signify his completion of TIRR's 16-week Challenge program, one of the most thorough, rigorous rehab programs in the country.
After completing the rigorous 16-week TIRR Challenge Program, Brad rings the bell.
"It was incredible! It makes me emotional, but he has come so far and persevered," says his mom, fighting back tears.
He sure did, even meeting his number one goal to go back to college this fall.
Brad will start with one class this semester to play it safe. He hopes to be a dentist one day, like his dad, and maybe even figure out a way to practice dentistry and add ministry to it! He believes his faith helped bring him this far, this fast.
"This would stink for anyone to go through and, honestly, it wasn't fun for me. But at the same time, it's okay! If you're only able to find your satisfaction and peace from things that are right in front of you, this will be harder," says an encouraging Brad. "But throughout this whole process, my faith has increased, and I'm able to find satisfaction and peace through my relationship with the Lord. So, I suggest that for anyone going through this, make sure you put God first because He is going to provide all that you need."