Mario Leon, a healthy 25 year-old cycling enthusiast, with a passion for the outdoors took a trip to Joshua Tree National Park to celebrate the New Year with friends, when his life took a sudden turn. It was December 31, 2011, and the group decided to go for a short hike before sunset. Everyone was enjoying the scenic view and weather. Mario was running around with his friends, and in the dusk, he tripped and fell off a cliff – 20 feet down. In a matter of seconds, he hit the dirt hard and everything went dark.
Mario's friends descended the cliff as fast as they could to meet Mario at the bottom, where he was writhing in pain and moaning. Fellow campers tried to gauge his responsiveness and when Mario could not respond clearly, they called 9-1-1.
Joshua Tree National Park Rangers responded and Mario was airlifted to a nearby hospital. Mario suffered a massive head trauma and was put into an induced coma for six days. Sixteen pieces of his frontal and temporal lobe were removed to help relieve the intense pressure on his skull, near his brain that could have killed him. Approximately one month later those 16 pieces would later be carefully placed back into his skull – like a puzzle – after his body was stable enough.
Mario was in shock and needed time to recover. To help him heal, he was given a feeding tube to help ensure he received the proper nutrition and a tracheostomy tube to help him breathe. The next month would be the battle of his life.
After thorough research as to where he would begin his therapy, Mario and his family decided on the MemorialCare Rehabilitation Institute at Long Beach Memorial, because of its excellent reputation. He spent two weeks in rehab at Long Beach Memorial working with therapists who put him through a series of exercises such as balancing using the Nintendo Wii® system, obstacle courses, squats and bending down to pick things up.
Long Beach Memorial has its very own Transition Rehabilitation House that is a real house where rehab patients practice average daily living tasks. Long Beach Memorial is one of the only hospitals in the region to have an extensive transitional rehab house where physical, occupational and recreational therapy are combined to get patients back to independent living.
A moment that Mario will remember forever was the day he was discharged. The Long Beach Memorial transitional rehab team let Mario make a sandwich in the oven all by himself. After that sandwich came out of the oven, Mario was charged with a wave of excitement and a welcome feeling of regained independence that would propel him further in his recovery. Mario continues on his road to recovery and hopes to strengthen his eyes so he can get back on his bike.
"It's been an entirely new learning process with life, my main problem is diplopia, commonly known as double vision, an obstacle stopping me from living my life how I want to," says Mario. "I will overcome it."
Mario continues to go to outpatient rehab and he's been working on walking naturally without support devices. Also, his therapists put him through a series of mental exercises that help his identity and cognitive skills. Mario feels very lucky to be doing so well with his recovery and attributes a lot of his progress to Long Beach Memorial.
"I am grateful to Long Beach Memorial and the rehab team for helping me with my first steps toward recovery and getting a normal life back," he says.