Former WSU student shares personal struggle to raise brain injury awareness

  • Tony Perez is a former WSU student who suffers from a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) because of a motorcycle accident.

  • Perez attends speech therapy twice a week at the Speech-Language-Hearing clinic at WSU.

  • March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month.

In 2011, Anthony “Tony” Perez was a 22-year-old junior majoring in business administration at Wichita State University. On June 10 his life changed forever. Perez was riding his moped when he was struck by an SUV and rushed to the nearest hospital, Wesley Medical Center.

His injuries were so serious that he had only the minimum level of function to breathe and was given only a 5 percent chance of survival. He wasn't expected to make it through the night; the hospital staff even prepared a morgue donor tag for him. 

Perez woke up 24 hours later and couldn't speak or move the right side of his body. But he understood verbal cues and could communicate by squeezing his mother's hand. He would give a thumbs up or down to indicate yes or no. After spending 20 days in the hospital, Tony traveled to Nebraska and spent several months at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln and Quality Living Inc. in Omaha. 

He is now able to talk on his own and is relearning how to speak sentences and be independent. Although he has made remarkable progress since the accident, Perez is still recovering from his life being turned upside down. He sustained several injuries, including a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) which resulted in Aphasia, a communication disorder that results from damage to the parts of the brain that contain language. Aphasia makes it difficult for him to express his thoughts, speak, read and write. 

Never, ever give up. Ever.
Tony Perez

Perez attends speech therapy at the Speech-Language-Hearing (SLH) clinic at WSU twice a week. Clinical Supervisor Ashley Purdum says he shows incredible determination and rarely misses a session.

“Tony continues to meet his goals every semester,” she says. “He is super motivated and such a hard worker. He never complains and is a really inspiring client.”

Perez says the clinic has been an important part of his recovery. 

“The staff and students are really friendly and the therapists have been very helpful in my therapy,” he says. “Because of them I'm able to continue improving my speech skills.”

He says his family has been his biggest support throughout his journey and he connects with TBI groups online. He has also developed an interest in bodybuilding, which helps strengthen his muscles and improve motion.

Perez wants to help raise TBI awareness in March during National Brain Injury Awareness Month. He created special flyers and graphics for people to use and share on their social media accounts. He wants people to know there are many TBI survivors in the world. It can happen to anyone, young or old, and the injury isn't always visible.

According to the Brain Injury Alliance, every 23 seconds one person in the U.S. sustains a brain injury, and an estimated 1.7 million people sustain a TBI annually. Falls are the leading cause of TBI.

“There aren't a lot of resources in Wichita for TBI survivors,” he says. “It's not a short or easy journey and I want other survivors to know they aren't alone.” 

He urges TBI survivors to never lose hope. 

“Never, ever give up. Ever.”