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.
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
One of the most frequently asked questions I receive since my accident is “What is it like not having any memories of your past”. The best way I can answer that is “LOST” it is the most descriptive word I know of describing this feeling. It feels like everyone around you knows everything about you and your past and I just try to imagine my life and memories as they are told to me by my friends and loved ones. There are times that I will listen to my family tell stories of things that have happened in our past and I just sit there amazed that everyone knows this story but ”me”.
I often relate to this question of “What is it like not having memories of your past” to the movie Family Man starring Nicholas Cage as “Jack” and Tea Leoni. I have watched this movie several times and I find it difficult to get through because of the fact that it is so relative to my situation and that I share some of the same confusions, disbelieves and fears that Nicholas Cage has in his character in the movie. For those of you not familiar with this movie, it is about a character played by Nicholas Cage who receives a visit from an angel that gives him a glimpse of what his life would be like if he had married his college sweetheart and not gone to London to become a stock broker.
The movie begins with Jack in his life as a successful Wall Street tycoon controlled by the power of making money and being successful. He then runs into this man running a convenient store who turns out to be an “Angel” and gives Jack a glimpse of what his life would be like if he had married his college sweetheart. The next scene is Jack waking up in a bed with a wife and two kids and a dog and it Christmas Eve. The look of confusion he has on his face at that given moment when he wakes up is one that I can relate to. I felt that when I woke up the first time after arriving at home from the hospital it felt like this was a dream and it will soon go away. The movie has so many parallels with Cage’s character and myself.
We both married our college sweethearts and where both successful businessmen and both woke up one day and our lives were changed forever. We both struggled with trying to realize who we are and why are we here and we do not remember anything of our past. I found the movie difficult to watch for several reasons, but most noticeably is the fact that the fear in the characters eyes and the realization of this situation is not going to change is probably the most difficult thing for me. But as he movie goes on he starts to become more comfortable in his role as a husband, father and a business owner. Jack starts to believe that this is his life and begins to accept it and before you know it his glimpse of his life is over and he wakes up again in his previous life.
Many people have told me and Joan that our story is almost like a movie, well in this case it is correct but we continue to live this movie every single day and every scene seems to bring new challenges in our daily lives. I know our life is no “Hollywood Story” but I can definitely relate to the movie “Family Man” which I find fitting to my story is because that is what I am a ”Family Man”.
There are so many memories that I wish I could get back, but most of them revolve around my family and friends. There are so many memories of my daughter Taylor in her short 17 years hat I wish I could remember and be part of. My daughter is a beautiful young woman who is proofing to be intelligent with her 3.7 grade point average in her senior year of high school and focused on her career of the fashion world. Taylor will be attending FIDM in Los Angeles in September of 2010. She is full of life and everyone including me adores her. She is a captain of her high school cheerleading team and she attends EVIT for her fashion merchandising after her 2 classes in high school. With all of these activities she maintains a part-time job as a hostess at a local restaurant.
As I sit back in amazement and watch her develop into a wonderful woman, it is apparent to me that both my wife Joan and I have done an excellent job of raising her with values, morals and self esteem. Every time I look at her she reminds me so much of my wife who has the same wonderful characteristics and personality as Taylor. As I go through family pictures and see all the years of her growing up it is visible to me to see her transform into this wonderful person.
My accident has been hard on my Taylor, there are so many memories she has of the two of us sharing quality time as father and daughter. She shares with me special times such as the time we went to a father and daughter dance or me helping her race her quad when she was involved with our sons motocross. It is these special times with her that I will forever miss and hope that one day will return. As a father I can only hope that I have encouraged her enough and shared my life lessons with her that will carry on with her throughout her adult life. I may not have memories of her first 17 years but I am looking forward to some of he special moments that she has to look forward to in the future. Her senior prom, her first day of college, me walking her down the aisle on her special day and one day holding her child that she brings into this world. I can only hope that there are many special moments that I can share with her and be the father that I know my beautiful daughter deserves. If Taylor can forgive me for not remembering her first 17 years I can promise that I will be there every step of the way with her to create better memories for the rest of my life.
As I laid in the hospital bed after my head injury I felt that my son Grant was almost too emotional for the situation. I didn’t feel like I was going to die so why was he so distraught? I was also curious about this much tearful emotion coming from my son; I felt that it was almost like he was hiding guilt for some reason. Upon returning home Grant went back to his apartment and was more or less not around a lot and I thought this was strange why was he so concerned at the hospital then not around? Next, I observed mood and health changes in Grant. Grant complained often of stomach aches or not sleeping well. At the family Christmas celebration, Grant was not happy and responded almost mad about the gifts he received. I did not know what to expect from Christmas or how people responded to it but I felt that they would be happy with a gift. I had seen shows and commercials on TV that showed Christmas celebrations and the joy people got when they received gifts and that was not Grants reaction. I wondered, what was with him? When my niece and her husband came over with their two small boys he noticed Grant withdraw even more and had little interaction with the very engaging children.
Joan told me the day following Christmas she takes the Christmas decorations down except for the tree in preparation for Taylor’s birthday—no combo celebrations—whatever that meant. Grant came over to help remove the exterior lights on the house. He once again complained of feeling sick and was noticeably pale. The lights were going to be replaced with new lights next year that Joan bought on sale. The job of taking the lights downs did not need to be carefully done since they were going to be thrown away. Remember we live in Arizona and the weather is a balmy 75 degrees and this was to be an easy job. Grant seemed to be very agitated that the lights did not come off the house easily and he began to swear and rip them off the house. I said I would rather risk getting onto a ladder 2 weeks after my head injury then see him show our neighbors his tantrum. He got down off the ladder and went inside the house to lie down and let me do the job in excruciating pain and risk of injury. Once he calmed down he came out and finished the job. I didn’t know much but I felt like I would have never allowed my dad to risk getting on a ladder if he was in my state and thank God Joan did not know this had occurred. What was wrong with him? How could my only son be so selfish and care so little after crying so hard at the hospital? The last straw was Joan kept “misplacing” my pain pills she would say while she was cleaning up my pill must have gotten put in the back cabinet or behind the plant out of sight. I had to ask Joan either I have a drug problem or more likely my son does cause his moods and behaviors are unlike anyone else and don’t make sense. That’s how I found out about Grant.
Yesterday I attended a board meeting for the Brain Injury Association of Arizona as a prospective board member. The meeting lasted for nearly 2 hours and at the end of the meeting I was asked to stay back and talk to the Director. The Director who is a very kind and gentle person told me that she had something that she needed to bring up to me and discuss. I come to find out that the reporter who did an article about my story had called her because he received a letter from a someone who wrote derogatory things about me and said that I was faking my injury to get out of pending lawsuits and he felt the need to contact this director to ask her for her opinion on whether or not she felt that she knew me enough to know if I was faking this injury. Long story short, the director of this association had informed him that my intentions were genuine and that in no way did she feel that I was faking or trying to gain something by this injury.
On the ride home after this meeting I suddenly started to feel embarrassed and confused as to why somebody would feel this way about me enough to write a reporter who did a story about me and my family and humiliate us in the way. Now the hard part, I had to tell my wife what had happened after the board meeting and watch the reaction of pain and amazement that covered her face. Not only was this person attacking me but they were also attacking my wife and children. Joan and I talked about who this could be and Joan knew exactly who this was.
I am starting to realize that not everyone is going o be sympathetic to my injury and condition and that some people are going to do whatever they feel to try and hurt you more than you already are. All I can say is that I did not ask to fall and I certainly did not ask to have a traumatic brain injury resulting in retrograde amnesia. For anyone to think that this is some kind of free ride I am taking, my response to them is I have not earned an income in over 10 months and my family has suffered both financially and emotionally over this accident. Being involved in a lawsuit in aviation is not a matter of if you are going to be sued it is a matter of when. My inability to recall memories is only hurting my case in my lawsuit and in no way has it helped me or benefited me financially. I guess I better get used to the idea that there will always be people out there who will try to hurt you and put you down when you are going through a rough time in your life. Joan stated it best that “She is thankful that I do not remember this evil person that somehow entered our lives”. I can only hope that this person can somehow find happiness inside of their miserable existence.