From Trauma to Recovery

Brian Smith suffered a bicycle fall, and ruptured his aorta in Nov. 2010. He suffered brain swelling and needed a craniotomy. He has since made significant progress in his road to recovery.

It happened in an instant, the way so many life-changing events unfold. One moment, Brian Smith was mountain biking with friends and the next, the 53-year-old drug discovery chemist had crashed to the dirt of Deer Canyon Trail near Rancho Peñasquitos. The fall broke his sternum, ruptured his aorta, broke two ribs and his left hand.

His injuries could have been fatal, but shortly after that crash, Brian was in the emergency department at nearby Palomar Medical Center Poway and then, later that day, in surgery at Palomar Medical Center Escondido and under the watchful care of Drs. John T. Steele, Robert Reichman and Rod Serry.

Several days after his life-saving aortic repair surgery, Brian suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and neurosurgeon Dr. Vrijesh Tantuwaya performed a craniotomy to relieve swelling in the brain. To preserve the skull cap, he placed it in the soft tissue of Brain Smith’s abdomen. It’s a procedure that’s not often used in stroke patients, but Dr. Tantuwaya’s surgery was a success and Brian was home and recuperating just ten weeks after his accident.

The early days after his homecoming were challenging ones, says his wife Fran Kennedy. But she knew that every step of the way, she had the information and ongoing support of the Palomar Health team including Drs. Keyvan Esmaeili, Jeffrey Chen and Thomas Marcisz.

“I don’t know how to find the words to describe how everyone went above and beyond in caring for Brian and in helping me learn to be able to take care of him,” she said. “The doctors, the trauma and rehab nurses, therapists, everyone was amazing and so committed to his recovery.”

The recovery has not been easy. Once an agile rock-climber as well as a cyclist, Brian now wears special glasses prescribed by a neurological optometrist to support his vision and balance, which were also impaired. He’s spent countless hours on speech, cognitive, occupational and physical rehabilitation in group and private sessions to do things such as selecting daily clothes to wear, taking a shower and grooming and walking and other exercises to gain strength, particularly in the left side of his body. Through it all, Fran said, his Palomar Health doctors – who even called during their vacations – were always available to help.

“Now, he can hike four miles on Torrey Pines Trails with me and he continues to learn techniques to help with his memory impairments,” says Fran. “To have someone like Brian with the tough odds he faced, and have him make it this far in his recovery is attributed to the Palomar Health level of care,” she says. “I don’t even know how to thank them all.”

We invite you to join the community that has supported our work throughout the years, thankful that Palomar has been there, caring for them and their families. Now and for generations to come, each gift has a lasting impact on the lives of so many. You can make that impact. It only takes a moment.

For more information on how to support life-saving care at Palomar Health, like that provided to Brian, visit our giving guidemake a gift online or contact us at 760.739.2787 or email us today.

  • Palomar Medical Center Escondido


    2185 Citracado Parkway

    Escondido, CA 92029





  • Palomar Medical Center Poway


    15615 Pomerado Road

    Poway, CA 92064