Derick Brumer’s story is a story of resilience and inspires people not to give up hope. The University of Pretoria alumnus made a miraculous recovery after a severe motorcycle accident in 1986 had left him in a coma for over five months. After regaining consciousness, he spent the next few months undergoing rehabilitation, which included four-hour-long therapy sessions as well as independent sessions at home. Since then, he has gone on to obtain his matric certificate as well as two degrees and one diploma, including a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pretoria.
Brumer (50) was born in Durban but grew up in Pretoria, where he attended Christian Brothers’ College. As a child, he particularly enjoyed singing, and sang in the Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal’s production of Evita (1980 - 1982). He also loved chess, and in 1981 achieved provincial junior school chess colours.
Life was ‘normal’ until that fateful day in 1986 when he nearly lost his life. Brumer was on the way to a drama lesson. “I didn’t think anyone would speed on wet tarmac,” he recalls. “A taxi hit me, sending me flying. I was knocked unconscious at the point of impact. And while I broke only two bones when I landed on the tarmac, I suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).”
He regained consciousness several months later, and could communicate perfectly. But the accident has left Brumer with diplopia (double vision), which is inoperable. He is also unable to run, and has hemiplegia – the left side of his body is slightly weaker than the right, including his left vocal cord, which vibrates at a slightly slower speed.
“I call brain injury the cheapest injury – because you get two injuries for the price of one,” he says. “It causes cognitive slowness, and the part of the body that is controlled by the part of the brain that’s been injured is also damaged. It took me years and many sessions of physiotherapy to learn to walk unaided.”
Brumer credits his mother with driving his recovery. Apart from ensuring that he received regular physical therapy, her influence as a music teacher played an important role in his rehabilitation. “When I did my physio exercises at home, I ‘jived’ to music,” he says. “I believe music helped because it is controlled by the opposite side of the brain to the side that controls logical thinking. I am sure that lateral thinking played a role in my recovery, because it enabled me to think out of the box.”
In 1988, Brumer attended The First College to complete matric, and passed five subjects. He had hoped to get a mature-age exemption but because he was not 23 at the beginning of 1988, he had to go to Boston College the following year. “I’d always wanted to go to Tuks, and had always felt confident during my recovery process that I’d go to varsity one day.”
After completing his studies at Boston College, Brumer applied to UP but did not gain admission. He then enrolled at Midrand Campus and completed a Unisa course in Psychology 1. He then applied to Tuks again. This time round he was accepted, and graduated with a BA in 2001.
From 2001 to 2004, Brumer worked part-time at UP’s Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. During this time he obtained a Further Diploma in Education: Severe Disabilities.
He has since gone on to achieve a distinction in Advanced Logotherapy from Unisa’s Centre for Applied Psychology. Logotherapy is a discipline that was devised by neurologist Dr Viktor Frankl, who survived Auschwitz. This is significant because Brumer’s late father also survived this World War 2 concentration camp. “I’m sure that that was one of the primary reasons I recovered from the accident. Dr Frankl believed that he survived Auschwitz because he could give meaning to his experience. I think that’s also an important reason for my recovery – that plus all the professional medical help I received.”
Today Brumer holds two degrees and a diploma. “I also had an article published in the International Forum for Logotherapy’s journal, Search for Meaning, entitled ‘Some Personal Comments on Perseverance’,” he says. “I’m a sought-after speaker on the public circuit, and I believe I’m a role model for all people, as I demonstrate the potential ‘recoverability’ of anyone. People who have survived a TBI will need support, which differs in every case. In my case it was physiotherapy and speech therapy.”
In 2004, Brumer recorded a motivational CD entitled ‘5%’ (the chance he was given to survive his first night in ICU), and he has produced a DVD about how he defied medical odds, which will be released on 5 February, the 33rd anniversary of is accident.