Derrick (DJ) C Life After A Brain Injury: Derrick’s Nonstop Fight

"My advice for anyone going through a similar situation would be to not put yourself down because every rainstorm is followed by sunshine."

It was a typical June day in 2018 when 12-year-old Derrick (DJ) Coleman started complaining of a headache in the middle of class. “I was in school telling my teacher that I had a headache, and as she was about to send me the nurse, I passed out and started having a seizure.” DJ was immediately rushed to a local hospital, where it was discovered that he had suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) secondary to a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM) rupture. An AVM rupture occurs because of pressure and damage to the blood vessel.

Before this day, DJ was highly active, playing basketball, soccer, baseball, and boxing. The rupture caused his life to drastically change. “I was put in a medically induced coma and the doctors told my mom there wasn’t much they could do there,” added DJ. “I was flown by helicopter to a pediatric hospital, where they performed brain surgery. I had so many tubes coming out of me, I flat-lined twice, and I was on life support. I had a Gastrostomy Tube (G-Tube), and a tracheostomy (trach) tube.” It was a scary time for DJ and his family, but luckily, he kept fighting and was discharged from the pediatric hospital in August 2018.

Making Strides

After DJ was discharged, he was admitted to the Inpatient Pediatric Brain Injury Program at Children’s Specialized Hospital (CSH) in New Brunswick on August 23, 2018, to improve functional ability and relearn life skills. The brain injury program at CSH provides young patients a broad range of medical care and rehabilitation therapy to recover from their injuries.

“I still had a trach, I wasn’t able to speak, and I lost motion in my right arm and left leg,” noted DJ. He was able to benefit from a multidisciplinary team and intensive daily therapy during his inpatient stay. His team developed a customized rehabilitation program that focused on DJ’s medical, physical, cognitive and psychosocial needs. When reflecting on his time in the program, DJ highlighted how much he enjoyed swimming as part of his recreational therapy sessions.

In addition to recreational therapy, he received daily physical, occupational, and speech and language therapy. “Speech therapy helped me start speaking again. It was great. I remember my first word was “Mom.” My mom was surprised and immediately started crying,” stated DJ. He kept improving, and after a few months of inpatient rehabilitation, he was discharged to head home and ready to be back with his five sisters, three nephews, and two nieces. In October of that same year, DJ began outpatient services at CSH Hamilton.


Therapist Kerry Hannan, OT; Anuja Nangia, PT; Derrick Coleman (DJ); Meredith Kilduff, OT; Lindsay Clark, PT

Starting Outpatient Services

At CSH Hamilton, DJ received speech and language, physical, and occupational therapy, along with Special Need Primary Care services. “I found speech therapy fun, but it was initially frustrating. I eventually got the trach out, and it helped with my speech. One big thing I overcame was repeating words over and over again. Something in my head makes me repeat words, but I was able to work on it with my speech and language therapist,” added DJ.

Within occupational therapy, DJ improved his upper body strength through weight bearing, TheraBand exercises, free weights, and wheelchair push-ups, among other exercises that focused on slow, controlled movements with proper body mechanics to activate his proper musculature. DJ’s treatment session also focused on navigating his environment within his wheelchair, which included propelling on smooth (tile) and rough textured (rug) surfaces, up and down ramps, and through staged obstacles. Occupational therapy sessions also focused on improving his core strength by sitting edge of mat and incorporating reaching and twisting while engaging in his preferred leisure activities, such as basketball, cornhole, ladder ball, football, etc.

“DJ’s brain injury also caused decreased range of motion of his right elbow, however, through serial casting within occupational therapy, he regained the full range of motion of his arm,” added DJ’s former occupational therapist Meredith Kilduff. “He also regained strength in his hands as sessions targeted his fine motor skills, consisting of grasping and pinching. DJ has an effervescent personality. Everyone at CSH knew him and rooted for him! It’s wonderful to see and hear what he has accomplished.”

After a few years of speech and language therapy and occupational therapy, Derrick was able to graduate from those services, while still continuing physical therapy and special needs primary care.


Over the years in physical therapy, he has worked on improving the mobility in his legs. He went from arriving to appointments in a wheelchair to now walking in. DJ is currently working on improving his balance, motor coordination, and endurance to participate in basketball with his friends and walk longer community distances to navigate his college campus. “I have mobility in my legs now, but I’m looking for more motion. I used to walk on the side of my foot; now I can flatten it; this is a big accomplishment,” noted DJ.

“DJ has made significant progress in therapy with ability to now walk independently with a cane and complete activities of daily living independently,” highlighted DJ’s Physical Therapists Anuja Nangia and Madigan Lindner. “DJ always has a positive attitude, is highly motivated, and lights up any room he walks into. He works very hard to better himself and will be the first to make you laugh with his bubbly sense of humor.”

Physical therapist Lindsay Clark, who has known DJ since the beginning of his services, exclaimed, “DJ is one of the most resilient kids I’ve known. He always comes in with a smile and remembers every single therapist he has ever worked with. Everyone knows when DJ is here because his contagious laugh fills the room.”


DJ is also receiving Special Needs Primary Care services from Dr. Christina Ott, the chief of special needs primary care at CSH. “I have been caring for DJ since his discharge from our inpatient facility in 2018. He has made great progress with his mobility over the years,” noted Dr. Ott. “DJ and his care team, including many therapists at CSH, have worked very hard to optimize his recovery since 2018 and he continues in therapy now to make further strides. I have been lucky to play a small role in his recovery and care coordination and look forward to seeing his continued success in the future.”

Looking Ahead

“After my brain injury, I didn’t think I was going to graduate. I didn’t think I could go back to school, then I started using a wheelchair. It was hard to use because my arms weren’t strong at first, but I did it,” stated DJ. “My mom can’t believe how far that I’ve come, she thinks it’s unbelievable.”


“He has always been motivated with his CSH therapy family and ready to try new things no matter how challenging, which is one of the biggest reasons he has achieved so many of his personal and therapeutic goals thus far. We are so proud of DJ and all of his accomplishments,” stated Anuja and Madigan.

“I know DJ will continue to bring light and inspiration to those around him in his future endeavors,” added Meredith.

Now, 18 years old, DJ is walking and was accepted into multiple colleges. He’s planning to start classes at Mercer County Community College in the fall. “I want to be an architect and design houses on a computer,” added DJ.

“It’s amazing to see DJ transform from a 13-year-old adolescent to a now 18-year-old young adult who is planning for college,” highlighted Dr. Ott. “Despite the obstacles he has faced, he is often joking around in our office and maintains a positive attitude.”

DJ concluded, “My advice for anyone going through a similar situation would be to not put yourself down because every rainstorm is followed by sunshine. You can get through it and you will be okay because once you start, it will get better.”

Learn more about Children’s Specialized Hospital Brain Injury Center of Excellence.