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Matt Faulkner: From Tragedy to Triumph

5:09 PM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
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WEST SENECA, NY - If you didn't know Matthew Faulkner, you would see him on the campus of Canisius College and think he was just the average student.

"I have about a 3.5 GPA so far and it's my last semester and my major is Economics and Finance and I actually already have a job when I graduate in May," Faulkner said.

Clearly Faulkner excels, but his accomplishments are even more impressive once you learn that he's a medical miracle.

Four years ago, Faulkner was a senior honor student at West Seneca West High School. He had a course load full of AP classes, was the editor in chief of the yearbook, and president of the National Honor Society.

But on March 2, 2009, a simple car ride with friends after school changed everything, when they were struck by a pick-up truck at the corner of Transit and New Bullis Roads.

"It hit right where I was sitting in the back seat driver's side," said Faulkner. "Everybody else walked away from the accident but I had to be Mercy Flighted."

In fact, doctors say that crew from Mercy Flight, the paramedics and first responders, are responsible for keeping him alive.

"When Mercy Flight arrived paramedics saw that his body was limp, he was barely breathing, and his heart had stopped, which is a very dangerous moment. And fortunately they gave him life support that gave him the chance to live," said Dr. Gregory Bennett, Clinical Director of Neurosurgery at ECMC.

Dr. Bennett treated Faulkner upon arrival. His CAT scans showed moderate swelling and bleeding in the brain caused by the force of the impact.

Not knowing when, or even if, Matt would wake up from the deep coma he was in, his parents never left his bedside.

"Dr. Bennett told them within the first week that they'd probably be taking me off life support within the year," Faulkner said.

"Unfortunately we don't know what will happen. We know that there's a possibility of survival and recovery. So we treat, particularly with young people, we treat a long, long time and hope that they will recover," said Dr. Bennett.

For weeks Faulkner didn't make a movement or a sound. Slowly he began to open his eyes and eventually whisper. But 42 days later - on Mother's Day of all days- there was a breakthrough.

"My voice just cracked and it was there," Faulkner said. "I said Happy Mother's Day to my mom and she was thrilled because they didn't know if I'd ever be able to speak again. It was a pretty profound moment."

Speaking was one thing, but Faulkner set his sights much higher. He had a goal of walking across the stage at his high school graduation. It's what kept him going.

He worked at speech, occupational and physical therapy 5 days a week at ECMC.

"I really focused on being able to walk and I actually was able to walk out of the hospital after being there for 103 days and 42 of them I was unconscious."

"It's a remarkable improvement. We want that. We'll try for that. We don't always get it. But we try," said Dr. Bennett.

A traumatic brain injury and three month hospital stay would obviously set most students back. But not Faulkner. This overachiever got the go ahead from his school to graduate and less than 2 weeks after being discharged, he walked across the stage to receive his diploma. It was a display of courage that inspired everyone who knows him.

"I've got to see him go from a position where I was in the hospital thinking I was saying goodbye to seeing him as one of my close friends and hanging out on the weekends. It's cool," said Faulkner's friend Ryan Monolopolus.

So motivated by Matt's incredible journey, Monolopolus is now re-creating it for all to see in a documentary called "Recovery."

"Matt's recovery can be used as an example of how people move forward in multiple calibers. Not just from a medical injury, but how do people move on from anything that may be traumatic or jarring in their lives?" said Monolopolus.

"I think they can get inspiration to know that what they think may be impossible could very well be possible," said Faulkner.

And the possibilities seem endless for Faulkner as he's set to graduate from college in May. No doubt he is still learning to live a life where walking fast is difficult, coordination is challenging, and nerve damage is permanent, but those things don't hold him back.

"I love to be an inspiration for people who think that they can't do stuff and they can't overcome their issues. There's always going to be work-arounds and there's always support you can use to accomplish whatever goals you have," Faulkner said.

"Recovery" will premier March 23 at UB's Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. A $5 goodwill donation is appreciated and some of the proceeds go to Mercy Flight.

 

A local author, Joe Kirchmyer, also wrote a book about Matt's journey called "Most Likely to Survive."

 

Copies of the book and documentary will be available for purchase at the premier.

 

Click here for more information about the documentary.

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