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My Three-Year Anniversary Living with Retrograde Amnesia

December 17, 2011 will mark to the day three years ago that my life changed forever. With a simple slip and fall accident that took place at my office building of my aviation management company, my life was “deleted” leaving me with a permanent retrograde amnesia. After waking up in the hospital without any of the previous 46 years of my life’s memories it was time to restart building a new life.

So what have I learned in three years, the list is so long but yet so short I am often asked this question when we speak, the best answer I can give is that I do not know, what I do not know, therefore making it difficult to realize what is still missing in my bank of memories. First and foremost I have learned to love again, my wife of 27 years has taught me to be a loving, caring husband and spending countless hours teaching me kindness, the loving caress that seems to relieve my headaches, the endless hours of teaching me a life that seems to only be that of someone else. Joan has never given up the idea that my memories will come back. When I think of the daunting task Joan was faced with caring for me and wondering if I would fall in love with her again, seeing that three years ago we were meeting for the first time even though we had been married for nearly 25 years. I am not sure how love felt to me before the accident but now it seems to be a huge part of why I choose to move forward, without the love of my wife and daughter I am not sure that I would still be here.

This brings me to my second most valuable lesson and that is how to be a father. It was so difficult to sit and watch my then 16 year old daughter Taylor take on the role of being a parent to the father that has been raising her since birth. For 16 years Joan and I have done everything that we could do to ensure that our children had the best possible life we could provide. After the accident Taylor was still in high school and forced to realize that the father she once knew was a very different father these days. I had no idea how to act as a father, how to interact with a 16 year old and let alone to provide the life lessons that a father is supposed to share to his children. Taylor has been dealt a difficult hand, not only was she facing life with a father that no longer knew her but she was dealing with a severe drug addict for a brother. A brother that she could not count on to now provide the advice, guidance and support that her father no longer could. Taylor did not allow these difficult circumstances to sway her in any way to share with me how I used to father her before the accident. Sharing with me that I was strict but fair and I had always showed love in our house. So with Taylor teaching me how to be a father by showing me love and teaching how to be a father in the way that she did, it makes me feel good to think that “maybe I did do it right”. If anyone has read our book “My Life Deleted” you will know that I have had a very strained relationship with Grant.

This brings me to another lesson that I have learned and that is no matter how much I want something or wish that it would happen, it just may not. Grant has been struggling with a drug addiction since the age of 16, now 22 he has seemed to have cut off all ties with me because I see the world in “black and white” living life without emotional attachment to things prior to the accident has created a protective barrier for me. Seeing that I have only known Grant as a drug addict I have seen how he has manipulated both his mother and sister over the years. I have watched enough Dr. Drew, Intervention and Dr. Phil to know that allowing this manipulation only prolongs his addictive control over my family. I have learned to call him out every time he tries to manipulate us to his benefit. I have learned that it is my job as the husband and the father of Taylor to not allow this to continue. I have learned that I have to help myself become the new man that I want to become and that Grant has to learn to become the man that aims to be. To my loving wife Joan and my beautiful daughter I thank you for allowing me to share this second chance at a new life with you both.

Feeling the Years

2.22.2011

Feeling the Years

On the eve of my birthday, I am of course taking that annual inventory of where I am in my life and where I want to be in the next say two, five, ten, twenty-five years.  It’s that second time in each year I do this. the other being New Years and of course I have already broken those goals.  So time to do the inventory and set some more goals.  Physically, well I am still reeling from the self-medicating with chocolate from the stress and pain of the past two years so still not back to my fighting weight, but making strong progress.  But the aches and pains of aging are becoming less than subtle and beginning to rear their ugly heads.  I can’t help but think of the lines from City Slickers where Billy Chrystal sadly describes the stages of life to his son’s class and he describes “in our forties we will have surgery that we will call a procedure.” So when my right shoulder was developing into a chronic ache, I went to see a dear orthopedic surgeon for a cortisone shot hoping to bathe the pain.  When that provided no relief, I fear a surgical repair or “procedure” is in my future, just don’t want to take the time off from working out to do it so when the pain gets too much I will go for it. 

However, yesterday I was really reminded I am no longer 21 or the gymnast I once was many years ago.  Most days I take the dogs down to the wash (a desert gravel area that runs between the housing developments-for those who are not in the desert), and exercise the dogs.  This particular wash divides our subdivision with horse property that has everything from cows to ostriches and every farm animal in-between.  Mocha, my chocolate lab, is obsessed with the ball and Taylor’s Yorkie (who we have adopted) loves to run after mocha chasing the ball and biting her.  I threw the ball and it rolled under the fence where the people with the white pony and 2 goats live.  They are putting up new fencing that has small two inch by four in wire squares on their three pole fencing.  Apparently, they are mid-project because the fence was not secured at the bottom.  I decided I could easily jump over and retrieve the ball.  Now I was a gymnast for 13 years and fell off the beam sometimes more than I was on it, so I know how to land.  But that short term muscle memory is long gone and I rolled my ankle upon landing.  So  inventory for physical: right shoulder and right ankle ailing the rest a work in progress and not a lost cause so conclusion: not bad for being within sniffing distance of …..50.

How is Scott Doing …..since developing profound retrograde amnesia?

1/25/2011

Today I met with my dear friend Tammy Crawford, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Leadership Solutions, Inc.  Her foundation hosts, The Desert Duel and she has grown this organization with such strength, integrity and passion since losing her husband tragically a few years ago.  As we sat down for lunch, the familiar question can up, “How is Scott doing?”  Here is this busy powerful businesswoman taking the time to meet with me and still taking such a personal interest in Scott’s condition—she is so kind and a true friend that always touches my heart.

Scott, I said, “Has good days and bad—and today he is OK.”  Some days he may wake with a major headache or confusion-but today just woke early (3:30am) with a slight headache which thankfully subsided by mid-morning.  Many days the stress and overwhelming feeling he experiences when thinking about re-learning his entire world or what he has lost by not having an autobiographical or historical memory of his entire 46 years is too much and turns into a physical exacerbation.   He has lost so many coping skills and the thoughts keep playing over and over in his head until it sometimes becomes too much.  It is almost like a bad reoccurring dream that you can’t get rid of or like when you see something horrific happen and the more you try to erase it, the more it remains and plays over and over inside your head.  I give his so much credit for pushing forward most days to relearn or keep up on current happenings in our world.  But he has so much more to give and want to see his voice and story of true hope and inspiration to be heard.

Pink Blanket

11/21/10 Pink Blanket

Yesterday our daughter Taylor went back to FIDM (Fashion Institute Design and Merchandising) in LA.  We had a great long weekend together having her back home.  We hit all of her favorite restaurants that she does not have in LA.  Spent the weekend laughing, running errands, shopping and working on her homework just like HS days.  It was amazing to see her tucked safe and secure in her own bed just like a little girl.  When she left to get on the plane on Sunday, I cried for 15 minutes it was awful.  I hate not being able to see her all the time to go shopping or to lunch.  Once home, I washed her sheets so they will be clean when she comes back for Christmas break and that is when I discovered her childhood pink blanket still under her pillow.  The pink satin trim was well worn from her daily caressing to sooth herself.  I remember once we bought 6 identical blankets because leaving it somewhere was a devastating event—we would pull out a substitute blanket I would keep in the car or at home but that substitute never worked she would know that it was not the “original” and we would back track for it.  Seeing it still tucked under her pillow made me cry again thinking that she is still such a little girl and how much I miss that girl who is trying to become a woman in LA.  When I told Scott I cried more because Scott did not share in the memories of her childhood—that when it hits home and I realize I am alone again in the memory of raising our children.

Reliving My Children

Yesterday my family and I went to my nephew’s 3rd birthday party at Chucky Cheese in Scottsdale, AZ.  Although this may not seem like a highlight in my previous life but now a day’s these are the events that I hold important in my life.  My niece and her husband also have another son who is 7 and she is expecting another child in March and I can tell you it is an absolute pleasure watching this young family grow much of the way Joan and I did many years ago.  I learn so much about these two young children in the way have developed and grown in the past year, it better helps me understand how our children grew and matured when they were that age.  The 3 year old is full of energy and can be mischievous at times and the 7 year old is quite the thinker and is always observing and taking everything in.  Both of these children have no idea of what it means to me to watch them as they interact with each other and also with me and my family.

It is so important for me to walk in the footsteps of my previous life to learn and feel some of the same emotions that I must have felt when we raised our own children.  An example of this was when the 3 year old saw  Chucky who is a large mouse character and was frightened by him and ran for the comfort of his mother and immediately was pacified by her comfort.  It made me feel the emotion of safety that I must have provided my children when they were scared.  I could picture myself and Joan providing the same level of protection and comfort to make them feel cared for and loved.

For the past few months my niece has tried to get permission from her doctor to allow me in the delivery room when she gives birth to her third child but that dream has been put on hold for now with the decision from the hospital that only one person can be in the room for the birth.  That privilege is going to my other niece and I am sure it will be one that she will treasure forever.  With that door closing my daughter Taylor opened another door in my life by telling me that she would want me to be in the room with her when she gives birth to her first born.  As a father I can only tell you that this was a very special moment in my life.  Being in the same room with my daughter giving birth to my grandchild would be an incredible experience that will allow me to relive what I must have felt seeing my child for the first time coming into this world.  Although my daughter is only 18 and just starting her adult life and by no means am I rushing the fact that I want her to grow up but I am looking forward to the day that she will become a wife and a mother, because of what I have seen of her in the past year and what I have been told about her 17 years prior I am sure that she will become an excellent wife and mother, just like her mother has.

My One Year Anniversary

December 17th marked the one year anniversary of my brain injury. My family even celebrated it with a birthday cake, we make a lot of jokes in our house, if we didn’t we would cry even more. This past year has been a constant learning process and never ending firsts for most things.  There have been so many things that I have experienced for the first time since dealing with retrograde amnesia.  I am still amazed after one year how many things I have forgotten over the life of 46 years.  In this past year I have learned that family is the most important aspect of my life, without my wife Joan and my daughter Taylor I do not feel I would have survived this horrific accident.  They have helped me learn to cope with losing my memory and to teach me acceptance and patience.  Both have taught me how to be a husband and how to be a father by sharing stories of my past as well as describing my reactions to situations in my previous life.  Although my son Grant has not been around for much of this year I try to better understand how he struggles with his own life.  I know deep down Grant desires to be involved in our family but he seems to be fighting his inner self to allow himself to fully accept his sobriety and this causes our family much pain.

This past year I am also putting together some of the puzzle pieces as to who I am as a man, husband, father, son and business man.  This process of reinventing myself is still the hardest for me to deal with.  The thought of me ever figuring out who I once was and how I can become that person without having any memories to go on is a daunting task at best.  I have done so many things this year to try and recreate my past but it still seems like I am living someone else’s life and not my own. 

This one year anniversary has also marked many good experiences, from becoming a board member of the NFL Alumni Arizona Chapter and serving on the Board of Directors of the Brain Injury Association of Arizona.  Taking an active role in serving the community has been very rewarding to me and has also began to lay a foundation for me on what truly matters in terms of success.  With our story being aired on ABC’s Nightline in the next couple of weeks and our book deal in the works, Joan and I have realized the importance of giving back to the community and taking an active role in philanthropy.  We find it important to be able to share our story through our professional speaking as well as telling our story throughout the community to provide inspiration and hope to all who need a lift in their spirits. 

After the first three months of feeling really bad with the constant headaches and mass doses of narcotics for the pain I have learned to cope with this condition and to make the best of life under these circumstances.  I truly look forward to the year 2010 as being one of many changes in our lives as well as learning many new things and experiencing all of life’s finest.

I will be on live tonight at 9pm EST

LIVE BROADCAST: December 1, 2009 @ 9 PM ET

PODCAST AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD: Immediately following the live broadcast

Scott Bolzan has been able to fulfill the dreams of playing in the NFL as well as becoming a professional pilot and owing and operating a successful aviation company which specializes in managing corporate aircraft. . .or so he’s told.

In December of 2008 Scott suffered a brain injury from an accident that has erased the previous 46 years of his life due to profound retrograde amnesia caused by this accident. He has spent most of his time trying to rebuild his previous experiences and lessons of his previous life.

*we’ll take your calls at 646-652-4804

A Lost Soul

 

Since my accident in December my life has changed in so many ways, some for the better and some for the worse.  In the case of my son Grant I find it difficult to understand how this child that my wife and I have raised can be so lost in his own self-destruction.  By now most people know that my son has battled drug addiction for sometime now and it hurts me to know that this has been going on for several years and I do not remember any of it.  Joan has given me great details of how our son has grown up in competitive sports his whole life and we have been active in his sports ventures the entire time.  Grant has played every sport from basketball, baseball, hockey, football and motocross.  From the time he was little I have been told he excelled in every sport he had tried.  Grant favored hockey when he was younger playing forward and goalie for the junior Coyotes in Phoenix and Scottsdale where he achieved many accolades and awards and traveled all over to play the game that he loved.   

 When Grant was in 6thgrade he was playing catch football at recess and took a blow to his temple resulting in a traumatic brain injury that required emergency brain surgery to stop the bleeding of an artery in his brain.  I can only imagine how devastating this must have been to Grant going thruthis injury and not being able to play sports for the better part of 6 months. Joan has told me that once Grant started to heal and all of his friends were still playing sports he felt useless and that he did not have any identity because he could only identify himself as a hockey player and nothing else. Grant started becoming a dare devil taking risks that were not acceptable for the safety of himself.  Joan explained to me that we asked him what he wanted to do that was dangerous but one that we could control with the proper safety equipment and structure to ensure his safety.  Grant responded “I want to do motocross”.  At this point we had bought him a used dirt bike and began his training to learn to race.  According to Joan, Grant and I spent countless hours honing his skills to become a proficient rider to race at a level that was not going to get him hurt. Grant after many hours of practicing and training started to become a very good rider and over the years moved up to the different levels of talent and earning over 300 trophies in his career.  At one point Grant finished 15 in the nation at Ponca Nationals in Oklahoma.  BothJoan and Grant have told me that I had stopped going to Grant’s practices and races when he was 16 because we were not getting long at the track due to the fact that he did not want me coaching him anymore.  This is the point in my son’s life that things began to change.  He started experimenting withdrugs of all kinds from alcohol to marijuana and pills.  According to Joan, he was very good at hiding it from everyone; even his friends did not know he was using drugs.  Grant’s drug addiction steadily got worse with harder drugs and increased frequency.  He has spent time in rehab, sober-living, detox and even a brief case of being homeless. 

There are so many things that I wish I could remember of my past about my son so that I had the feeling that I have done everything I could in my power to of better guided him and to teach him so that he would be the man that he was proud to be.  Grant is a very smart and charming man but yet he is so lost inside.  I am having a hard time trying to reach deep inside of him and help him pull out the man that I know he wants to be but the demons inside of him sometimes pull him so far back that I know only he himself can make these demons go away.  As I write this blog Grant has not spoken to me in several days due to an argument that we had on Sunday and I hope one day soon he will want to speak to me as his father.  I was told by my cousin yesterday hat he felt that Grant has struggled with dealing with my successes in life.  With me playing in college and the NFL and being a pilot and owner of a successful aviation company that he may feel that he could never live up to my standards.  I can only tell you how hard those words spoken to me and about me from my cousin have hurt me deeply.  As a father I have only wanted the best for my children and if I have in anyway shadowed my success and created expectations that he could not achieve, I must than apologize.  I only wish I could have said something or done something, or hugged him one more time or said I loved you one more time to have changed the course of his life.

Grant and I share something that most fathers and sons do not and that is a traumatic brain injury. I too know what it feels like to be lost in this world and without an identity and to be scared.   I want and need my Grant to be a part of our lives and to teach his sister the how a young man should act. As a father I know I love my son but only time will tell if my son will love himself enough to be the person he will grow to love, because I know he is struggling with that and I can only pray and show my love as a father.

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