At 28 years old, Andrew Horner had settled into life in the small town of Geneva, New York. He was living with his girlfriend and his red-nosed pit bull. The Bainbridge, Ohio, native was working as an independent contractor, moving furniture, installing awnings, etc.—anything with his hands. Andrew is at his happiest when he’s moving and active.
On Sept. 28, 2019, about 2 a.m., Andrew was involved in a one-vehicle motorcycle accident that drastically changed his life. Two college students witnessed the accident and rushed to help. One called 911, and the other straightened Andrew’s head to help him breathe better.
Andrew was rushed by ambulance to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, a Level 1 trauma center. Even wearing a helmet, he had sustained a traumatic brain injury, with a lot of pressure and swelling. He also had several broken bones in his right arm and deep wounds.
Within 48 hours of his accident, Andrew opened his eyes. While he remained in a semi-conscious state, his family sang childhood songs, shared memories, moved his feet, played his favorite music in hopes of helping him regain consciousness.
Ten days after his accident, Andrew regained minimal consciousness. When Dr. Heather Ma first assessed Andrew, she saw that he was very agitated. However, based on his progress up to that point, she was also very optimistic about his functional prognosis.
Dr. Ma encouraged Andrew’s parents to start thinking about Andrew’s care long-term because he was recovering faster than they were ready to handle. She recommended a place close to her heart—and much closer to the Horner’s Bainbridge, Ohio, home, too.
Upon reviewing Andrew’s records, Dr. Ma, noticed that Andrew’s parents lived in Northeast Ohio. Dr. Ma had attended medical school at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University, where she served a one-month rotation at MetroHealth’s Rehabilitation Institute. Thanks to that experience—where she served under John Chae, MD, co-director of the Institute—Dr. Ma knew that MetroHealth had one of the best brain rehab programs in the region and suggested they get Andrew there.
“I know they’ll treat you well,” Dr. Ma said to the Horners about MetroHealth. “I’ve been there.”
That’s all the Horners needed to hear. “When this person says, ‘You want the best brain health care, and that’s MetroHealth’—that’s just so much integrity to me,” says Kristi, Andrew’s mom.
On Oct. 24, Andrew was transported to MetroHealth. He spent 14 weeks in inpatient rehab with the Acute Brain Rehab Team.
Laura Poling and Terese Kusner, Andrew’s occupational and speech therapists, vividly remember those first couple of weeks with Andrew. They say that initially, Andrew couldn’t follow basic directions or recognize common objects.
Laura used K’NEX building kits—toys that Andrew had played with as a child—to help him work on following instructions and rebuild his memory skills. At the same time, Terese worked on his cognitive and language skills. “He wasn’t able to express himself easily. There was a lot of word substitution, jumbling,” she recalls. He had to learn to read and write all over again.
To improve his ability to swallow, they practiced with Reese’s peanut butter cups, which had just enough texture to be used to practice chewing—an essential skill needed to get him back on solid foods.
“I tell patients when they leave that this [inpatient rehab] is a relatively short period of time in their whole path of recovery,” said Terese. “The progress doesn’t stop when you leave this building.”
On Dec. 13, 2019, Andrew went home for good. He had to relinquish his title of “Mayor of 8N”—given to him because he made friends with everyone he met and was the longest-term resident at the time.
He was just learning how to walk again. His attention span had improved considerably. And his reading and language skills were stronger, even though he still had difficulty finding the right word to say.
Andrew continued outpatient occupational therapy, which incorporated cooking at the kitchen in the Old Brooklyn Health Center. Cooking had always been something he loved to do, so it was the perfect therapy tool for him as well. Occupational and physical therapy ended on September 29, 2020 – almost one year to the day of his accident. But he continued speech therapy well into 2021.
“The beauty of PM&R at MetroHealth is that it’s holistic,” says Kristi, Andrew’s mom. “And none of it would have happened without Dr. [Lixin] Cui.”
By the end of 2020 Andrew had completed three graphic design classes at Lakeland Community College. And since March 2021, he has worked part-time in the garden center at Home Depot. And he spends as much time outdoors as possible—his happy place.
“My full-time dream job would be with the Metroparks,” Andrew says. “Being in charge of some land or trails. I’d love to do something like that.”