Teacher and Triathlete Returns to School After Severe Brain Injury Hard-earned sweat trickled down her back and dripped from her forehead while the intense August sun heated up the morning air. Megan Kruth contently smiled as she rhythmically peddled her triathlon bike along a North Hills corridor and meandered her way into the tree-lined entrance of North Park.
hese are the journeys that the spirited and optimistic second-grade teacher eagerly awoke for each day. Her passion for fresh air gliding across her cheeks and a warm burning in her calf muscles created a determination that pumped her way up steep hills on daily bike rides and through the grueling hours of swimming, cycling and running at Ironman triathlons. Until that one summer bike ride in 2013 came to an excruciatingly painful halt. Megan cycled with her friend along a section of Babcock Boulevard that she had peddled so many times before. Her tire hit a groove on the road that caused the bike to jerk, shake and then abruptly pause, flipping the 43-year-old over the handlebars and catapulting her headfirst into the hard, hot concrete. “I don’t remember the accident at all, but my friend who was with me sure does,” Megan said of the calamity that occurred just five miles from her home. “My helmet was cracked, and soon after, I lost consciousness. Apparently, my brain bounced off of my skull.” Her friend called an ambulance, and Megan was taken to Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) where she was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma, a collection of blood in the layers of tissue that surround the brain. As blood accumulates, pressure on the brain increases, which leads to unconsciousness and can cause death. Khaled Aziz, MD, neurosurgeon at the Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Neuroscience Institute, performed a surgical procedure called a craniotomy that involves removing a part of the skull to eliminate the hematoma. “She suffered a severe brain injury from the tremendous impact,” Dr. Aziz said. “We had to relieve that compression on the brain that restricted her cerebral blood flow.” Sitting daily at her bedside, holding her hand and praying for her eyes to open, Megan’s parents and siblings rallied around her. They were left numb by the still body that lay in the bed, but were reassured that Megan’s strength and will would pull her through. “Dr. Aziz and everyone on the staff, who worked with Megan day after day, took such wonderful care of her and were extremely kind and helpful to us as her family,” said George Kruth, Megan’s father. “The dire moments of watching Megan in a coma were difficult, and they were so outstanding with their medical care and with supporting us emotionally on a personal level.” She was in a coma for 10 days, remained at AGH for another 10 and began an outpatient rehabilitation program to learn how to walk and eat again. While living with her parents, Megan had additional surgeries over the next year, including a biomaterial implant to properly reconstruct her skull and plastic surgery performed by Michael White, MD. She also experienced seizures – a common occurrence after a brain injury – that are now being managed with medication.
“I am so fortunate that my parents were there for me. I wasn’t able to drive because of the seizures, and I really had to start all over again,” said Megan, who has only a divot on the left side of her head as physical evidence of her accident. “Recovering from a traumatic brain injury takes time and patience. I had the support of my family, friends, school and community, and that helped me to keep my chin up and move forward and say ‘let’s do this; let’s get to the finish line.’” This fortitude, coupled with the medical expertise Megan received at AHN, streamlined her along an accelerated road to gaining her life back. Having an innate passion for sports and a healthy life in general, Megan established a game plan that started with short walks and progressed to riding a stationary bike in the basement of her parents’ home. “When the doctors told me I could swim again I almost did a backflip!” Megan giggled while describing her joy of returning to the pool and eventually rejoining her Masters Swim Team at the YMCA in Wexford. “Participating in sports channels my energy in such a positive direction, so it is a significant driver in my life.” Whether Megan will resume on-road biking or participate in triathlons as she had for eight years prior to the accident remains on the questionable list for now, but it’s definitely a desire. She feels immense gratitude to have returned to her townhouse and to have regained her driver’s license. And Megan will soon walk back into work to begin her 20th year teaching at Hance Elementary in the Pine -Richland School District. “I’m ready, definitely, to venture back into teaching and being with the kids. I’m so excited to do so.” It’s been two years since she has decorated bulletin boards, prepared lesson plans and worked alongside the colleagues who championed her healing process – even donning “Team IronMeg” T-shirts and raising money to support her recovery. “You can see the smile that comes to my face when I talk about my recovery because so many people encouraged me and got me through,” Megan said. “And the incredible AHN doctors, nurses and all the staff throughout the hospital made a difference in my life, literally. Their treatment and care is why I am here and able to do what I’m doing. And it wasn’t just the medical aspect, but it was also the support and care they gave to me and my family along the way – even after I left the hospital. It was remarkably amazing.” And surely anyone who knows Megan would undoubtedly say, “So is she.” F
Northern Connection | September 2015 www.northernconnectionmag.com
Back to School 2015 - Part 2 Pittsburgh Pirates Trivia and so much more!