Sometimes, just when you think you have life figured out it throws you a curve ball. That’s what happened to Travis Gonder. Living his dream job, Travis was a military firefighter with the United States Air Force stationed in Italy when he was in a non-military car accident that ejected him from the back window. For Travis, the accident resulted in a traumatic brain injury as well as losing a kidney, his spleen and breaking his pelvis. It was a second in time that would change his course of life forever.
Immediately after the accident were surgeries at VA hospitals in Maryland and Washington D.C. before Travis woke up in the VA hospital in Palo Alto, California – 6 months in a coma had passed. “That’s when the really hard work started,” said Travis who spent two-and-a-half years receiving physical, occupational, speech and emotional therapy in California.
When Travis was medically retired from the Air Force, he came back to his hometown of Spokane Valley. It was Travis’ mom who found St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute and urged Travis to continue outpatient therapy.
“I really didn’t want to,” said Travis. “I had worked so hard, and I was sick of therapy. But I knew it was a good idea. And they really helped me at St. Luke’s.”
Travis participated in outpatient physical, neuro-psychology and occupational therapy at St. Luke’s. “The therapists were friendly and welcoming to me and my family,” said Travis. “I really enjoyed my therapists, and got great therapy. They pushed me, and that’s what I needed, but the friendliness of everyone was the best part.”
At St. Luke’s, Travis continued to progress. Physical therapy helped him with his gait while walking and occupational therapy helped open his eyes to the future – going back to school and figuring out a new life for himself since his injury.
Today, Travis is living on his own in Liberty Lake, WA and attending school. Based on his experiences at St. Luke’s, he is looking at becoming a physical therapy assistant. But his love of firefighting is still a draw and he would like to somehow work again in a fire department.
What he does know is that he has options and that his future holds promise. When asked what he would tell other people who are affected by a traumatic brain injury, Travis gets a big smile. “It gets better with time,” he said. “You have to work hard, and sometimes you might get depressed but you have so much to be thankful for. I have found a new life path and am blessed with how much I have to live for. There is something else out there for me, another career that makes me feel proud like firefighting did.”