Clark Elliott, Ph.D.
The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back
One fall day in 1999, on his way to give a lecture, professor Clark Elliott's car was rear-ended. The impact slammed his head back, then flung it forward. Shaken up but without any noticeable injuries, Clark surveyed the damage to his car, spoke to EMTs called to the scene, then continued on his drive to the DePaul University campus where he taught. He went through the motions but something was off: his mind felt foggy and he couldn't find his car after class. Later, he had great difficulty getting from his car to his front door.
It would take four more days before Clark would receive a diagnosis: concussion.
Like the many millions who have suffered concussions, Clark was told there was nothing much that could be done to help him recover from his mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). "Learn to live with your symptoms," the doctors said.
As a scientist in the field of Artificial Intelligence, Clark was intrigued by the effects of his brain trauma. At a glance he may have looked fine—perhaps a little odd at closer inspection—but under the hood severe cognitive impairments affected all aspects of his daily life. At times he couldn't walk across a room, or even name his five children. Remarkably, Clark kept detailed notes throughout his experience, an astonishing 1200 pages of documentation that are the basis of this fascinating book.
After eight years, the cognitive demands of his job, and of being a parent finally became more than he could manage. In one final effort to hold on to his life, Clark crossed paths with two brilliant Chicago-area research-clinicians—one an optometrist using neurodevelopmental techniques, the other a cognitive restructuring speicalist—working on the leading edge of brain plasticity. Together, they targeted the visual centers of Clark's brain, teaching him to use new neural pathways where others had been damaged. The impact was dramatic. Within weeks, the ghost of who he had been returned.
Included in this book are forewords by both research-clinicians who worked with Clark, and samples of the visual puzzles he completed on his path to recovery. The Ghost in My Brain is a powerful record of what life is like as a concussive: the endless and exhausting need for creativity as one navigates through days filled with bizarre changes in perception, strange social dilemmas and a sometimes overwhelming sense of alienation. It's also an unforgettable chronicle of recovery, one that provides a window into the tremendous power of the human brain and offers new hope to those suffering from concussions and other brain traumas.