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Matthew Linton: the power of neuroplasticity

Matthew Linton believes in the capacity of the brain to regenerate itself with intensive therapy. He’s living it.

On Victoria Day weekend in 2009, while staying at a Collingwood chalet, Linton fell from a deck and hit his head on a concrete slab below. Friends found him unconscious and roused him, but he later fell into a coma.

Flown by air ambulance to a Toronto hospital, doctors found massive internal bleeding and damage in his brain. They operated to relieve the pressure, but told his wife Stefanie, family and friends to say goodbye.

“There was no expectation that I would survive, or that I would ever have a functional life,” says Linton. He attributes his recovery to enrolling in a research program at Toronto Rehab that capitalizes on the ‘plasticity’ of the brain to repair and recover functions that might otherwise have been lost.

Specifically, the research project is examining the value of intensifying treatment by doubling the amount of therapy. Results will show whether recovery is greater or faster, and whether the ‘intensity’ is tolerated or too tiring.

When Linton arrived at Toronto Rehab two weeks after regaining consciousness, he was paralyzed on his left side and had little short-term memory or ability to read. “I signed up for everything I could possibly do to get better,” he says.

For eight weeks, Linton’s physical, occupational and speech therapies were doubled to six hours a day. The treatment was exhausting, he says. “It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life.” But there was constant improvement, against all odds.

Since leaving Toronto Rehab, Linton has maintained a “managed lifestyle” of exercise, a strict diet, lots of rest and constant stimulation, such as listening to audio books. He continues to cope with fatigue, headaches, balance problems, memory lapses and blind spots in his eyes. Yet a positive attitude, strong support from those around him and a determination to “never stop trying” have allowed him to return to a near-normal life.

The 31-year-old has resumed his career part time in venture capital and corporate finance, and recently started his own consultancy in the field. He’s mindful that his “truly exceptional” improvement is not shared by all of those with injuries as severe as his.

“We’ve got a long way to go before we have a solid understanding of how the brain works.”

His recovery to date has been “a miraculous surprise,” Linton adds. With his unflinching commitment to achieving the best possible quality of life and the support of family, the rehabilitation and research community, he hopes this progress will continue well into the future.