A traumatic brain injury led one Edgartown EMT toward helping others with similar afflictions.
Dylan Keusch, a student at Cornell University and an Edgartown EMT, grew up in Dover, Mass., but spent his summers on Martha’s Vineyard with his family.
“I think exploring the Island for what it is and meeting all sorts of cool new people and having great experiences made us the people that we are today,” he said.
Keusch is currently studying industrial and labor relations with a minor in health relations at Cornell. He plans to go to medical school while focusing on public health policy. “I think there’s a lot to say about making people healthy through law,” he said.
Meanwhile, Keusch began working as an Edgartown EMT last year, sporadically returning to work on long weekends and when there is a break from school.
“It’s been the most incredible experience getting to care for not only the people of the Island but also visitors,” he said. “I think it’s a really special calling when you get to protect and serve the place that you’ve called home for so many summers.”
The catalyst that pushed Keusch toward medicine? Originally, Keusch wanted to be a lawyer like his mother. It is also why he entered the industrial and labor relations program. However, after graduating from high school, Keusch said a “perfect storm” arose, leading to him needing medical care.
At the time, Keusch swam competitively with hopes to swim in college. After a tiring weekend that included a long competition in Canada and being dehydrated, Keusch fainted and struck his head on the ground.
“They say life comes at you fast, and it really did this time,” Keusch said.
Keusch said the doctors at the hospital he was initially taken to, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, found internal bleeding in his brain and had him transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital. While he had to be monitored by the hospital staff, he needed an operation. He left the hospital after six days.
“I don’t really remember much of this, but my parents remember me as a shell of myself,” Keusch said. “You take a 17-year-old, young, healthy boy and all of a sudden all I could really do was sleep. I wasn’t able to dress myself or brush my own teeth or feed myself.”
Painful headaches and a lack of interaction with others also followed Keusch home, including a “seizure-like episode” a few days later that briefly forced him back to the hospital.
“I really feel for my family in this part of the story because I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to watch me like that,” he said. “The good news is my recovery progressed.”
Keusch’s recovery included returning to Boston Children’s Hospital for “intense physical therapy” and rehabilitating his mind.
“My injury was mostly focused in the frontal lobe — when we think of the frontal lobe we think of executive function and concentration, all of the things we use in school,” he said. “I really had to relearn how to learn.”
Through this process, Keusch learned about his body and mind in new ways. “I don’t really think of it as an injured brain, I just think of it as a new brain,” he said. “I don’t think there is a lot of productivity when we think of ourselves as injured or less than. It’s just a difference and it’s ‘how can I overcome that difference?’ and I think that’s what my rehabilitation was all about.”
Going through the injury and the medical procedures pushed Keusch to do some soul searching, making him recognize how lucky he was to be given a second chance at life.
“The one thing I wanted to do is make a difference in this world and to do good,” he said. “It’s a bit morbid, but my brain kept going back to ‘If this happens again tomorrow, how do I want to be remembered?’ And I wanted to be remembered as somebody who was possibly putting their community in front of themselves, others in front of themselves.”
This revelation lit Keusch’s path toward the medical field and being of service to others.
Keusch would eventually return to Boston Children’s Hospital, this time as a B.R.A.I.N. (Boston Research, Academics & Innovation in Neurosurgery) research intern the summer after his freshman year of college.
“I just finished up my third year there,” he said. “It has been such an amazing experience getting to work on research.”
Among the research Keusch is a part of, he recently submitted a manuscript looking at the genetic basis for moyamoya disease, a rare cerebrovascular disease in children that can lead to medical emergencies like strokes.
“We want neurosurgeons to genetically test kids because we want to see what’s driving this and what other predispositions we can treat early on,” he said. “For example, we had a kid who was genetically tested because of his moyamoya and we found that the child was also predisposed to a certain type of cancer. So, he was referred to a cancer predisposition clinic way early on so that this could be followed throughout his life and that the cancer, if it ever did present [itself], would be targeted as soon as possible.”
Although returning to the hospital as a colleague rather than a patient was jarring, Keusch said it was very rewarding for both him and the doctors.
Another role Keusch holds is as the chair of the Neuroscience Family Advisory Council, which he said gives patients and families space at the decision making table.
“We wanted our patients and families to be able to have face time with doctors and administrators to express their concerns or express their ideas about some sort of initiative,” he said. “The work has been incredible. It is not clinical in any way, shape, or form, but I think it’s equally as rewarding.”
The council also provides space for patients and families to socialize with each other. Keusch said he has benefited greatly from speaking with other brain injury survivors.
“As patients, we talk to doctors, to nurse practitioners, to nurses so much,” Keusch said. “It is so refreshing to talk to someone who truly understands what you’re going through.”
Keusch reflected on the various ways he has been involved in healthcare environments in Boston and on Martha’s Vineyard, saying, “When I look at all of my roles, it’s crazy that I’m kind of seeing healthcare in so many different ways.”
After graduating from Cornell, Keusch will be joining Boston Children’s Hospital as research assistant in the department of neurosurgery for two years before enrolling in medical school.
“On the weekends, I’ll be on-Island in the back of Edgartown’s ambulance,” Keusch said.