Recovering from multiple traumatic brain injuries is not easy, but with the right mindset and a healing mentality, you can take charge of your recovery process and come out stronger and better. Such is the case of this inspiring recovery story told by one of Dr. Kevin Pecca’s patients, Johnny Grande. Johnny has had more than his fair share of head trauma. Between numerous concussions to major TBIs in 2011 and 2017, and an aneurysm on top of all that, his head has had to undergo several surgeries, some of which added even more problems to his already suffering brain. None of that deterred his unbreakable spirit, however. What is Johnny’s secret? A lot of that seems to be in his head (pun not intended). Listen to his story and be inspired to keep battling to find the silver lining in whatever comes your way and do whatever you can to get better.
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Unbreakable With Johnny Grande
The Healing Mentality
In this episode, we have one of my patients, Johnny Grande. Johnny has the most amazing comeback story of all time. He has been through hell and back. He never gives up, always striving to heal himself from all the trauma he's been through and been able to overcome. He's had multiple traumatic brain injuries. He is such an inspiration to me because I've seen his recovery firsthand. The guy is a warrior. He's an inspiration of hope. It goes to show you whatever you're going through in life. Keep battling, keep fighting, find that silver lining and do whatever you can to get better. This story here is why I created this show because it's inspirational. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I do. If you like the episode, please like it, share it, subscribe. We got more episodes on the way. Please welcome, Johnny Grande.
Johnny has been a patient of mine for a couple of years now. His story is one of survival, hope and never giving up. Johnny has one of the best recovery stories I've ever heard of. It's something that I've been able to see firsthand. Every month, I watch him continue to heal and become the best version of himself possible. One thing that stands out about Johnny is his mindset. It is unshakable. It's win-or-go-home every day with Johnny. Even when he's having a bad day, he doesn't let them stop him from doing anything. He lives his life. He's on his way to a full recovery. He's an inspiration to me and that's why I wanted to share his story. Johnny, how are you?
I'm good, Kev. I'm glad I'd be on the show.
You have one of the most amazing stories. You've told me briefly. I'm watching it firsthand. I'm watching how much better you're getting each month. There's a lot that goes into it. You're not taking no for an answer. It's unbelievable how positive you are. You're seeking all the right treatments. It's a pleasure to have you on as well because it's amazing with all the hell you've been through and how much of recovery you've been able to make.
It's a lot easier said than done. When it first started, it was an emotional roller coaster. It's been years since I did hit my head in 2017. I might get emotional when I'm talking, but that's how proud I am about myself as a person. You have to want to not take no for an answer to prove people wrong when people say there's no way in hell that you'll go ahead and feel better or you'll do such a thing. I'm the person that if you tell me no, I'm going to go ahead and prove you wrong 100 times over and over again.
Johnny, take us back to the day of your head injury. What happened? Was it a normal day when you woke up? Did anything feel off that day or was it another day?
I had my own business at the time. I delivered soda. I had a truck that had the roller doors on the side. It was a normal day at 4:00 in the morning. We got to our first store at 6:30. I remember trying to get twelve packs of soda off of the shelf from the top end of one of the trucks. I hit my head on the bottom of one of the metal shelves. I remember when I hit my head, I felt off. I've had that feeling before because I've had numerous concussions in my life. I also had a TBI in 2011 that I fully recovered from. That's the one I got hit with a softball in 2011.
Johnny, jump into that story first because that was probably your biggest one.
That one was more devastating in life than anything else, but it was probably the easiest one to get through compared to what I've been through since this newest one. In 2011, I was playing on a softball league and I was sliding into second base. I tried breaking up the double play and the ball hit off the right front of my head. I got knocked out. My friends slapped me around a couple of times when I woke up. I went to go walk to the bench and I fell over a couple of times. My friends had to help me to the bench. I forget this when I was sitting on the bench. I had fallen asleep against the fence because the bench and the fence were close together.
One of my friends, Michelle, went over to me and says, “Johnny.” She kept screaming my name. I remember it faintly started getting lighter and lighter her voice. She shook the cage and I woke up. She's like, “I’ll get my damn car. I'm taking you to the hospital because this doesn't look so good.” I go to the hospital. The right front of my head was falling. I was probably coming off my head like two inches. They did a scan of my skull. I had a fractured skull. I had 3/4 of my brain was full of blood. I got into a helicopter to a trauma center and that started that story.
You got helicopter to the trauma center and didn't your friends make it to the hospital before you didn't take a long time?
They made it to the hospital before I did. I got to the hospital in Trenton and they're all waiting for me. I remember going into the emergency room or where the trauma center. I spoke to the doctor. She says, “You’ve got some bleeding in your brain. We need to stand by to see if things get worse. Once you start getting bleeding in your brain and it starts to fill up, there are lots of things that can occur or you could lose function, lose hearing, lose mobility, lose eyesight. It's the brain. You can die.” A couple of hours went by and they did four scans. I remember that, I'm like, “Another one?” She's like, “Yes.” To me, it was like breaking an ankle. It’s not a big deal. I didn't think it was a big deal. She did the scan. She said, “Everything is stable in your brain, the blood's not moving around.
Three-quarter of it is soaked in blood. What I want to do is you're going to stay here for a couple of weeks.” It was like two weeks. She sent me home. I’m in light duty. I couldn't do any physical work. I’ve seen her a couple of days after in her office and she said, “You could do two things. The blood stays in your brain and it can go away on its own. It could take up to a year or longer or I could go in there and do what I got to do to make everything better.” I asked her if she was my son, what would she do? She said she would let me go in there and do what she has to do. I went into the surgery the next morning. They took a piece of my skull out. They cleaned up what they needed to clean out, got all the blood out. They patch me back up and it was like a 4, 5, 6-hour surgery.
They put a metal plate in your head too?
It's got 6 or 7 screws in my head. She did that. I remember waking up out of surgery because I’m an organized person. I remember filling out my disability papers for work. The nurse had them in her hand. I didn't even ask her how I felt or anything. I said, “Make sure the doctor fills out number sixteen because they need to know how long I'll be out of work for.” She started laughing. She looked at me and she goes, “You'll be fine.” It was pretty funny. A couple of days went by, she started doing physical therapy, do steppers, walking and speed walking. They knew everything was fine. That lasted about a good ten months of recovery and being out of work.
How were you feeling after surgery? Did you feel pretty with it or were you feeling something’s wrong?
When she was telling me to do the step-ups, I was doing burpees. I was perfectly normal, not one issue. A couple of months went by, the whole fracture, it caught one of my main arteries and veins outside of my skull. I had this aneurysm outside of my head that she needed to fix as well. I had to go in for another surgery. She burned that artery and that vein.
You almost died from that too. Didn't your whole head swell up? You're like, “Something's very wrong here.” They said, “No.”
What happened was I went back to see the nurse and I kept telling her, “I got this vein popping out of my head, an inch and a half.” She would always tell me, “As you see these before and after pictures, you always had that.” I would always tell her, “No.” I got tired of it. I said, “I need to see the doctor.” She said, “She’s in surgery right now.” I said, “What hospital?” She told me the hospital. I went there and I waited until the doctor got out of the surgery. She looked at me and said, “What the hell is that on your forehead?”
I said, “This is what I've been trying to tell your nurses for the past month and a half that there something wrong.” She said, “Thank God you came and see me. I'm going to talk to those nurses. They're going to have my perspective on things. Thank God you came in and seen what was going on.” I didn't think like this whole skull fracture and this aneurysm was a big deal until about a year and a half, two years went by when I was watching 60 Minutes. That actor from the movie Taken, his wife was in a ski accident and hit a pine tree. She had bleeding in her brain and she died instantaneously.
What you went through would have taken most people out. I don't think a lot of people would have survived from that.
I agree from hearing the 60 Minutes story. She told me this numerous times. “I'm always been in great shape in my life, taking care of my body, eating good, doing CrossFit, cut mutters and Spartan races.” She said, “Johnny, if you weren't in such good shape, it would be a different story. Probably having to talk to your family about it.” That role was ended. I’m great after that. No big deal. It was like breaking an ankle.
You were good for about 6 or 7 years after that.
It’s 2017 when I hit my head.
How hard did you hit your head on the truck?
I remember hitting my head and I felt off. I had to sit down for a couple of minutes. I didn't get knocked out or nothing. It’s weird and awkward. Dazed like I was on a boat, my friend’s voice was like not as loud as it was. Being in high school and having concussions, it's not talked about until it has been now, with football being like a big thing about it. I hit my head and he's like, “Are you good?” I said, “Yes, I'm good.” Time went on. It was 6:00 in the morning. I had another 10, 11 hours to go on my route. I worked through it. I remember waking up the next morning with one of the worst headaches I've ever had in my life. I went to work. That’s when the whole story starts with everything.
You woke up the next day. You went to work. Where does it go from there?
I went to work I had a headache and pressure bad. I work in the prison. Even looking at the jail bars, you get dizzy because they're so close together. It's like optic. Pressure where I want to slam my head on the ground like a balloon to spew it out. My ears would hurt. My ears were killing me. The inside of my right ear was bad. The ringing was loud. I'm like, “I don't know what the hell is going on.” I need to start looking for doctors to get some help. It went on for a couple of weeks. I started getting worse and to myself thinking that I could fix this on my own. It wasn't the way I thought it was going to be that I needed somebody to go try to guide me in the right direction. That's when I started looking for doctors and things like that.
You went the traditional medical route. You probably saw a couple of neurologists and everything.
It started with me seeing four ear doctors. I went and they’re like, “Johnny, there's nothing wrong with your ears at all.” I was getting so frustrated that I was screaming at them like there's something going on. I was like, “I need to see your boss.” The boss would come in and he's like, “Johnny, there's nothing wrong. If you were someone walking in the streets, then there would be nothing that I could tell them, besides telling them there's nothing wrong with you,” that route. I got frustrated. I was like, “Let me go and see an ear doctor.”
I went to go see my ear doctor I had known for a long time. He said, “I don't know why your ears got this ringing. Why don't you start by trying to pop your ears for a couple of weeks by holding your nose and blowing.” I said, “Do you think this is going to fix me?” He says, “If you want the pressure to go away, that's one way for it to go away.” I did that for a while. He gave me some medications, some steroids to try to break the cycle. It didn't do anything. Diuretics to keep out this fluid in my ear. It didn't do nothing at all. I went to go see my neurosurgeon, who did the brain surgery in 2011. She evaluated me. She said, “Johnny, you have post-concussion syndrome.” I said, “Thank you. At least I got an answer. Now I get to work. I can go to therapy and fix myself.”
I went to Kessler and I was doing therapy for eight months with them, the treadmill tests, all kinds of stuff where they did therapies where I'd sit in a room with a disco ball. When a red light would go on, I would throw up in a bucket because of red lights would trigger something. I get nauseous. She would put YouTube videos on where somebody riding a bicycle in the city with a lot of like activity going on, people walking, hopping horns, visualization, or all kinds of stuff. I get nauseous and want to throw up. It was bad.
The first time I went to see them and they did the evaluation on me, she did a finger test where you bring your finger as close as you can to your nose. She's like, “When you see double vision, you'd let me know.” I started with my whole arm out. It was already a double vision. She knew it was bad. I work with her for a long time. I’ve seen all kinds of doctors. She wanted me to go and see this neuro eye doctor. I don't know the name. He was Dr. Ross. He was so helpful. He did something called vision therapy with him. He did some tests. He diagnosed me with binocular vision dysfunction where my two eyes were working together because of the concussion. I had another 8, 9 months of therapy with him and working hard every day to get better.
My eyes are working together now. I don't have to worry about that therapy or any concussion therapy. The problem I was having when I was at Kessler still, I would always still feel I'm on a boat. My ear was ringing. I feel very off. My neck would kill me, stiffness on my neck. She's like, “I don't know what to tell you, but maybe go back and find a neuro ear doctor.” I went to see this guy. He said, “I need some real hardcore tests, sitting in a rotational chair, standing on something and the background's moving.” It was four hours of testing and come out to a conclusion where he said I have a small tear inside of my right inner ear that you can't see on any scans or anything from his perspective of knowing what's going on from doing it a long time. He said I had perilymph fistula, which is a tear inside the inner ear that he needs to fix with cartilage from my ear that he would place inside my inner ear so that there would be no hole. I wouldn't feel like I'm on a boat or pressure in my ear ringing. Long story short, that guy that didn't do anything for me.
Did you get surgery to put the cartridge on your outer ear in the inner ear to fix that tear?
Yes, it didn't do nothing. I went back to see him a couple of months later. I said, “Doc, this shit didn't do anything.” He said, “I’ve got to do another surgery.” I said, “Excuse me?” He says, “Inside your inner ear, you got these three little rings. I’ve got to take one of them out so that the fluid can go out.” I said, “You’re not touching me again. You guaranteed I'd feel light right after this.” I went and got another opinion. I went to Mass. Eye and Ear in Boston. It's like the best ENT Philly in the whole United States. I’ve seen a group of eight doctors and they wanted to hear my story. I told it to them. I’ve seen Dr. Abdul Aziz. She's amazing. Thank God I went to see her because it wasn't real with me. I don't know what I would've done. She said, “Johnny, I want to let you know right now I had five radiologists look at all your scans and all your paperwork. There is no way you had perilymph fistula.” She said the fifteen years she's been there and the tens of thousands of surgeries all those doctors on, that surgery was only done one time.
How many patients did that woman see, 10,000 you said?
There are probably 8 or 9 doctors in that whole floor. She said out of the 10,000 to 20,000 surgeries they had done over several years, it's only been done one time. She says, “You’ve got to do me a favor. You need to stop seeing that guy and trust what I'm about to tell you. I want you to do three things. I want you to go start talking to somebody. I want you to do what you think is a very few. We will get through this together.” When somebody says we will get through this together and not trying to pass you around, that’s powerful than any drug, medicine, surgery or anything could do. She said do those things. I told her about seeing you and how much that's helping me. I told her about the neurologist, and all these therapies that I've been doing.
I did acupuncture that did not mean for me. There's been so much things I forget. It's probably been 2 or 3 dozen doctors I've seen since this thing started. I'm in a better place now. Even my jaw was bad. Even chewing food, I would feel nauseous. Whenever I chewed pizza or steak and I'd get this click. I had a jaw surgery arthroscopy to get that cleaned out, which definitely helped. When I did hit my head in 2017, I always had grinding and clenching when I slept that night. It's gotten drastically worst. I grinded through three mouth guards. I'm on a new mouthguard now that I've been on for the past month. Dr. Hare has been great with trying to help me with that in the facial pain that I deal with the tingling. I must say the mouth guard has definitely helped me.
Johnny, what does the upper cervical chiropractic help you with?
The symptoms that occur that I have on a daily basis are the ringing in the right ear, the stiffness in the right side of my neck, the jaw tightness, feeling I’m on a boat, my face tingling all the time and lower back pain. I feel it's taken over me. I feel out of it, I want to beat myself. I get nauseous. When I'm in, I feel like a normal person. The trees are HD. The leaves are greener. I feel the tingling in my face when I'm in still. It tells me that things igniting. The blood flowing where it's supposed to. My vision is a lot better. The lower back pain is not there. The stiffness of my neck is gone. The ringing in my right ear is so less. A point if I'm in place for 1, 2, 3 weeks, I don't even know it's there. You checked me and I've been in a week. After the first two days that goes by, I don't even think about being in or out anymore because I feel like a normal person.
I remember your first adjustment, the first day I met you. It was a powerful adjustment. Do you remember that one? It was almost immediate.
That was powerful. I know everybody knows their body the best. Nobody could tell you what's right or what's wrong, or how you're feeling. I'm not trying to lie to nobody. I don't want to be at work. I don't want to not do things in life. We got lives to live. I got three dogs I want to play with them. I got a wife that I love my whole heart. Thank God she's been around for the past couple of years with me dealing with all this stuff, her support. I’m thinking about if she wasn't around, where I would be because without her, I wouldn't know what to do. When I did have that first adjustment, I said, “The tree looked so green.” You started laughing. I thought that was pretty funny. You told me to chill for a couple of minutes and then you rested me in the room for twenty minutes to a half-hour. I felt my whole body was being energized. My whole body started tingling, my toes, my hands, my whole face, my eyeballs, my ears. It's an experience that I can't even describe until someone that you treat knows what I'm talking about can only describe it.
It was good to see you respond that well. That was probably a few years ago. Since that day, it’s seeing somebody every day, you can't see the little changes. From where my perspectives and seeing you now, you're a completely different person. You're so much better than where you were a few years ago. I saw that video of you putting up weight at the gym. You're doing some amazing things that you probably didn't think were possible a few years ago.
It’s not that I didn't think they were possible. I know there were possible because I believe in myself and how I am as a person. I have things I've got to do and I still got more than half of my life to live. It used to stop me if I’m at a line because I can tell instantaneously when I am, but we have eight hours to do at work and we still have sixteen hours to live throughout the day. Me not being able to do what I want to do as a person, you get bad anxiety and get depressed, which I've been through. Plus, when you have all these other doctors telling you, “There's nothing wrong with you.” If you don't have depression, anxiety from that, there is something wrong as a person. I don't deal with any of that crap anymore. I told myself I have one goal. That is I can get myself back to the gym. I will fix myself. I have a great gym at the house that I work at. My whole basement is full of equipment. I had a resolution. It was to feel 100 times better than I did the past year, to start work out and put up weight and I'm doing that because I'm not stopping no more for nobody.
Johnny, you've been through absolute hell and back with this. I know most of it's been bad, but can you talk about some of the positives from going through such a traumatic experience and to where you're at now. Is there some light at the end of the tunnel that you've seen? Has it changed your outlook of how you look at life now?
It changed a lot you as a person. In life, everybody's going to have dumps. If you don't go through a section in your life where you're the worst of the worst, and I've been through that countless times. You get out of it and you accomplish more than what's expected for yourself. You grow and you feel so much better as a person. There's no gratification. You don't need any gratification from nobody. It's you as a person feeling better about you. Me with the whole aspect of where I was three years ago and going through that whole battle trying to find out what was wrong with me. We know what the issue is now. Me knowing and me accepting that is very powerful. You need to accept that. I'm not going to be 100% like I was a few years ago. If I could be 80%, 85%, I'm good with that because I’ll managed and I maintained. At the end of the day, getting started with things is always the hardest part. A lot of people would give up, but I'm not the person who gives it up because we have things we got to do.
At some of those darkest moments where you could have easily given up and said, “This is my life now.” What made you keep searching and pushing to get to that next level?
I knew there was something going on. This is not normal as a person. Me as a person not being normal. I'm so used to working so many hours a day and doing doubles. Living and enjoying myself, walking into a room, and being the center of attention where you go feel the good energy from people. It was to a point like I didn't want to go out with people or socialize with immediate family. The turning point was with me seeing people not wanting to be around me no more. I was so depressed with things and me not being the humble person that I am, the person with the good vibes. I said, “At the end of the day, we've got to do something different.” Me crying in the corner is not helping me or helping my relationship with my wife or me not playing with the dogs. I got to do something that's going to be greatly changing that. That's when I told myself, “This year is a year where we make things happen,” and that's what I'm trying to do right now.
Johnny, do you have any advice for anybody that is going through those dark times, those injuries where the doctors are telling you you're there, you're going to have to live with this forever. There's no hope. Do you have anything you'd like to share with those people? There’s a good amount of people with those injuries out there that still think there's no hope. It's always good to get the message out to them as well.
It was a point where it was bad. I want to run away and not be here no more. If you're feeling that way and you know that's not you, you need to go speak to somebody. You're building stuff up inside that you don't need to hold in. You’re getting your voice out and speak to somebody. They could also guide you in the right direction. My advice for people is if you feel a certain way and you know something's not right about you, don't give up. You're the only person in control yourself, no matter how many family members or best friends you got, people around you that are supporting. You are the only person who needs to go out about trying to find what's wrong with you. Do whatever it takes and don't give up.
I got more than half of my life left. I remember how good it was prior to this and how much better it is telling myself I'm not allowing you to take over me no more. I want to go on vacation. I want to go to gym. I want to do tough matters. I want to go ahead and maybe get my Master's or my PhD in something. There's more to life than sitting in a corner or sitting up in bed until 1:00 and going to work at 2:00 and doing it over and over again. That's not going to help. If you're feeling a certain way and you know it's not how you are as the person. Go and talk to somebody. There's always someone that will listen and guide you in the right direction.
Your story is incredibly inspirational. It wouldn't be half as inspirational unless you took it upon yourself to pull yourself up. The will to get better, not take no for an answer, and heal yourself because it starts with you and your mindset. First of all, a lot of people might have passed away from that head injury you first had. You made it through that. You continue to keep pushing and live that life you want to live. That's most impressive. It's not like I'm meeting you for the first time. It's even more inspirational for me to even see. It's a beautiful thing.
It was good because when I was going through all of these doctors and all of this, one day on Google, looking at holistic medicine or chiropractic medicine and things like that. I came about your page. It might've been some keywords like athletes went through experiences like I've went through and everything you had on your page. I could add maybe one thing. It was exactly the same. I said, “I need to go see this guy because he knows what the hell I've been through” because you've been through it yourself. That's when I said, “Let's go set up an appointment.” I went to see you. We're taking it from there.
I've been there too where you sit down with all these brilliant people and their fancy degrees. You want somebody to meet you on your level to listen. Some of them don't even listen to you. Some people think there's nothing wrong with you. Some of the doctors say, “You're going to have to live with this for the rest of your life. There's no hope.” That alone can put you in a mental ditch.
I know I'm going to live with something for the rest of my life, but if I had 100 things in the beginning and I got 20 of them left, I'm going to 80%. I'll make up the other 20%. We'll be working hard to get even better as every day goes by.
It's truly amazing to see. At the end of every show, I like to ask all my guests, what is one piece of advice that resonates with you that you would like to gift the audience? It could be anything.
I always say this to all my friends. It's an advice that I probably told you. It might have not even been advice. It might be me saying, but getting started is always the hardest part. If you don't know how to get started, go and reach out to somebody so they can help you through it. I went and I reached out to a psychologist. Someone I spoke to, Diane, she's a sweetheart. She helped me guide me through this whole craziness that I've been through with my health. Moving forward is going to get a lot better as the days go by. I'm a living example of it. We still battle every day, but I'm definitely a lot better than I was prior to this. I appreciate, Dr. Kevin, all this stuff that you’re doing for me as a person. You let me vent and talking because you keep things real and short. I’m the same person. You could take it as you want to take it.
Thanks for coming on, laying all the cards out on the table, sharing your story and being real and authentic. I appreciate those stories the most.
Thanks, Kevin. I appreciate you.
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