In 2008, Illinois State sophomore Alex Shelton was in a coma. Doctors told his parents he only had a 10 percent chance of living after suffering a traumatic brain injury in an accident.
On Monday, Shelton will be back on campus for the first day of classes—a back-to-school moment that he’s been working toward for six years. That’s how long it took to emerge from his coma and then regain essential parts of his life through rehabilitation—how to eat, walk, use his memory, and talk.
But he did it, and the determined 26-year-old is now looking to help others recover just like those who helped him.
“There is no obstacle that can’t be overcome,” Shelton said. “I’m here. I’m walking. I’m back in school. You’ve got to keep on pushing. You have to keep on keeping on. That’s what my motto is.”
The Dunlap native was an academically talented sophomore and resident advisor when he traveled to Mexico for a fraternity leadership academy in January 2008. In the middle of the night, he slept-walk off a hotel balcony.
The Phi Kappa Psi brother was in a coma for more than three months. It’s been a long road back ever since, progressing through rehab at a better-than-expected pace. He’s gone from a wheelchair, to a walker, to a cane.
“When I got my injury, I didn’t know that my brain controlled every part of my body,” Shelton said.
He credits his two speech language pathologists at the Peoria-based Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Mandy (Turner) Champion ’05 and Kylie (Naylor) Hakes ’03, M.S. ’05, with helping him achieve his dream of returning to school. (One of the things he had to learn was how to study—something the gifted “A” student never really had to do before the accident.)
Inspired by their work, Shelton himself now wants to become a speech language pathologist and, like every 20-something, get a job and move out on his own. He earned his associate’s degree and now plans to finish Illinois State bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the field.
“I don’t want kids to go through the same thing I went through and not have help,” Shelton told STATEside. “I want to make sure they get where they want to be. My speech language pathologists from ISU helped me get to where I’m at today.”
Watch the video above to learn more about Shelton’s comeback story.
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu. Bob Tomaski can be reached at rdtomas@IllinoisState.edu.