Iowa agricultural worker back on the job after tangle with a train

Iowa agricultural worker back on the job after tangle with a train
Matthew Carlson is back to work after tangling with a train in May 2016.

“You’re looking good," said a Madonna therapist.

"I’m trying to be good,” said Matthew Carlson, a traumatic brain injury survivor. 

Nearly a year and a half after Matthew Carlson tangled with a train ... this day he makes a stop to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals’ Lincoln Campus from his home in Muscatine County, Iowa. Reconnecting with his care team to show them just how far he’s come.

“I was in the right place at the right time when I was brought to Madonna,” said Matthew.  

An agricultural sprayer for Crop Production Services in Atalissa, in early May, Matthew was driving a new tractor in need of refueling. He crossed the railroad tracks at a nearby intersection, unaware of the oncoming train and the two collided.

“I was bounced around like a rag doll. I was ejected. I bounced off the train literally, physically with my body, the train threw me back to the machine. I broke a lot of bones. I landed on my head,” said Matthew.

Flown to the University of Iowa, brain imaging revealed significant damage to Matthew’s entire brain. Matthew stayed in the ICU for two weeks before getting on a new track of recovery. 

“It was a hard journey, but he has done phenomenal cause he’s a fighter, he really is a fighter,” said Mary Otto, Matthew’s younger sister. 

Matthew started off in the specialty hospital, to accommodate his complex injuries. Initially nonverbal and unable to move his upper body due to the multiple broken bones.

“He progressed quickly. They started therapy day one here. They got him up and moving and kept him going and challenging him and he had to just keep going,” said Mary.

Transitioning to acute rehabilitation, Matthew continued to make gains with physical, occupational, speech and vision therapy. From the start, getting Matthew back to work was a huge goal. 

“Getting him back into those things that he was familiar with and that were motivating factors to him. But to get him back in the position of being able to operate machinery again because again that’s our ultimate goal is to return him what he did before,” said Ryan Ernst, Ph.D., Matthew's neuropsychologist. 

Matthew’s team tapped into his love of farm machinery and tinkering with equipment that needed fixing through Madonna’s work re-entry program. “We try to recreate work scenarios that are close to what the people are used to in their ordinary, day-to-day occupations to get them back into having to follow directions, carry out plans, to be timely, to work on concentration and multi-tasking sorts of things,” said Dr. Ernst. 

Like Matthew, Madonna helps injured workers achieve tremendous outcomes. On average 90 percent of Workers' Compensation patients return to community. 
“I’m driving tractors again. I’m back to work a little bit at a time, which is where I want to be. I love my job,” said Matthew. 

“He went from nonverbal to look at him today I mean it’s amazing if you would walk up to him today you would have no idea that he was in that kind of traumatic injury kind of thing,” said Mary.

“I didn't give up and I never will give up. I'll keep pushing until I'm told ,I've got to quit pushing,” said Matthew.

To learn more about Madonna's Brain Injury Program, click here

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