“Back to Life”: Fighter Learns to Live Again

By Jade Waddy

As a child, Abdulmajeed Ali dreamed of one day flying the F-15 fighter planes he saw on television. When he was admitted into the Royal Saudi Air Force, he was excited to start his training. Ali moved to San Antonio in 2013 where he started a special program in partnership with the United States Air Force, which trains members of the military from select countries.

After three years of training, Ali was less than five months away from returning home to Saudi Arabia when he was involved in a motorcycle collision. The collision left Ali in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at a San Antonio area hospital for three weeks with a severe traumatic brain injury and extensive damage to his left leg.

Ali was able to open and close his eyes but unable to speak, follow commands or move voluntarily. Doctors declared him to be in a minimally conscious state.

“When patients are in a minimally conscious state there is a misconception that they are completely unaware of the world and there is no chance for significant recovery,” said Dr. Katherine O’Brien, a neuropsychologist and Director of the Disorders of Consciousness (DoC) Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann. “Some healthcare providers don’t recognize the potential benefit of a specialized rehabilitation program.”

“He Came Back to Life”

Fortunately, Ali’s physicians referred him to the Disorders of Consciousness (DoC) Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann.  One month after the collision, Ali was admitted to TIRR Memorial Hermann where he began his intensive inpatient rehabilitation program. At the time, he was minimally conscious and dependent on others for all of his care. His team, led by Dr. O’Brien and Dr. Sunil Kothari, Medical Director of the DoC Program, began a series of assessments and interventions and quickly recognized his potential for recovery.

During the first phase of his inpatient rehabilitation, his medical team focused on accurately assessing and improving Ali’s level of consciousness. At the same time, intensive neuromuscular therapy was directed toward his body so that, if his level of consciousness improved, he would have the strength and muscle control to begin to walk and take care of himself.

Ali also underwent surgeries at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center (TMC), including operations on both elbows and the placement of a ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt, which is used to drain extra fluid from the brain.

“It was very difficult to see my son like this,” Khalufah Ali said. “But with the help of the great therapy he received at TIRR Memorial Hermann, he came back to life.”

Taking His First Steps After His Accident

Four weeks after being admitted, Ali took his first steps with the help of his therapists. It was a monumental moment for the Ali family.

“We did not know what to expect when this all happened, but Abdulmajeed continued to fight through all of his therapy and continued to improve,” Khalufah said.

By the end of the first phase of his rehabilitation, Ali was able to walk with a walker.

“I am extremely thankful to God for this hospital helping me reach my goal and recover from my accident,” Ali said. “I want to be a role model for my younger siblings that they can also reach their goals.”

Ali returned several months later for a second phase of rehabilitation, receiving therapies at the TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation at the Kirby Glen Center. His regimen focused on advanced exercise to help improve strength and motor control, using elliptical machines, weight training and rowing. In the outpatient therapy setting, Ali focused on strengthening his postural muscles and continuing to improve his range of motion in his upper and lower extremities.

Grateful to Be Returning Home

Over time, Ali became well known around TIRR for his musical tastes. “Everyone began to know Abdulmajeed for his love of music, he loves to play music while we do his exercises,” said Garrett, one of Ali’s therapists.

On his last day of therapy, Abdulmajeed played his favorite song, Shakira’s “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” for all to hear as he toughed it out in the small gym using battle ropes and completing full body rows.

“I’m looking forward to going home back to Saudi Arabia and seeing my mom., I miss her cooking,” he said in between reps.

For the Ali family, they are excited to return home with their fighter son.

“We are happy to go back home but are forever grateful to the medical, therapy, nursing and management staff at TIRR Memorial Hermann, as well as the TIRR Memorial Hermann International Program, for their love and support over the last two years,” Khalufah said.

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