Sam, 15, is the kind of guy with whom you want to be friends. He’s smart, cheerful and fun to be around. He’s an athlete, a good student and just an all-around good dude known for wearing fun, silly socks. He’s the kind of person who people support when he needs it. Like in March 2022, when students and staff at Douglas High School all sported crazy socks to show support for Sam and his family.
Why the support? On March 5, 2022, Sam was seriously injured in a car accident. “I don’t really remember it. I know that I had a TBI — a traumatic brain injury,” he explained. “I also had a bruised lung, which was from wearing my seatbelt.” Sam recognized the severity of his injuries, but was quick to clarify, “wearing my seatbelt saved my life.”
Sam, who doesn’t even remember getting in the car that morning, had to be extricated from the vehicle by firefighters. He was rushed to the Rapid City Hospital Emergency Room, and his parents and brother were quick to join him there. The ER physician met with Stacey and Terry Biberdorf, Sam’s mother and father, along with a surgeon. Sam was still unconscious at the time, and both physicians wanted to get diagnostic imaging taken to better understand the injuries Sam had sustained.
Brace for it
“The doctors wanted to do a CAT scan, but Sam had a mouthful of braces at the time, which prevented them from doing it,” said Stacey, Sam’s mom. “When Sam was admitted, his orthodontist actually made a trip to the hospital and removed the braces for us.”
CAT scans and MRIs revealed what Sam’s care team suspected — his unconsciousness was the result of a traumatic brain injury. “At that point, it was just a waiting game to see if and when he would wake up and walk around,” Stacey said.
“We didn’t know what to make of anything,” explained Sam’s dad, Terry. “There’s the fear of the unknown, and you worry if he’s going to wake up.” Stacey added, “but we had fantastic doctors and nurses who helped try to work through everything.”
Sam and his family are especially grateful for Nivedita Mohari, M.D., and how she went above and beyond in her care. From advocating for Sam to spend time outside — where he first opened his eyes — to taking great care to coordinate with physicians at Madonna to make his transfer as seamless as possible, the Biberdorfs felt that Dr. Mohari looked after Sam as if he was her own child.
The Biberdorfs have nothing but praise for Sam’s care team, but for Stacey, one physician stands out — Nivedita Mohari, M.D. Dr. Mohari is an Advanced Care Pediatrics locum Intensivist. A locum is a physician that temporarily works in a practice — a clinic or hospital — that is not their own.
“She always advocated for Sam, even pushing for things that may have raised some eyebrows, like taking him outside. She said, ‘He’s a kid, he’s used to running outside, he needs to be outside, so we’re taking him outside to get some fresh air.’ And that’s when Sam first opened his eyes, when he was outside.”
Sam’s road to recovery wasn’t an easy one. Because of his TBI, Sam couldn’t function normally during his 11-day stay at Rapid City Hospital. This extended beyond lack of consciousness — he couldn’t regulate his temperature and would sweat constantly. Though he wasn’t awake, he was moving constantly, which caused problems with his feeding tube
that actually required surgery to rectify.
Once Sam had opened his eyes and EEGs verified that he was experiencing brain activity, he was transferred to the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital Lincoln Campus in Lincoln, Neb. Dr. Mohari had worked with physicians at Madonna to begin administering medication before the transfer.
“Through everything, Sam’s nurses were amazing,” Stacey said. “They did so much for him from when he was admitted to when he was transferred, that I can’t even begin to express my thanks.”
Sam got right to work once he arrived at Madonna. They immediately evaluated him for occupational, physical and speech therapy. Things were looking up. Stacey said, “As Sam was doing his OT evaluation and was playing a game with his brother, he said his first words since the accident — ‘I win.’”
The physical therapist made it a priority to get Sam out of his wheelchair and moving. “They pushed me really hard, and it was a lot of work,” Sam explained. “I had PT, OT and speech therapy twice a day.” Sam also met with a physician at least once a day to see how things were going and to assess his progress.
“He progressed very fast,” Stacey said.
Sam had to relearn everything: how to speak, how to eat and how to walk and talk. Everything he knew was still in his mind, but he had to learn how to access the information, knowledge and skills all over again. That would be an intimidating task for anyone, but Sam was relentless, coming up with a motto that served him for every step of his rehabilitation.
“I can, I will. Watch me.”
Sam’s positive attitude and relentless effort paid off. He was discharged from Madonna and returned to Rapid City, where he continued his rehabilitation via outpatient therapy at Monument Health Orthopedics and Specialty Hospital. Here, he continued to work hard at recovery, quickly completing speech therapy and continuing his occupational therapy and physical therapy.
While Sam was still in Nebraska, he was able to begin working on school work. Physicians told the Biberdorfs that Sam hadn’t lost anything he had previously known — it would just take some time and effort to bring that information to the surface. “Sam has always been an A-plus student, and school is super important to him,” Stacey said.
Returning to school turned out to be a great move for Sam. He continued his outpatient rehabilitation, working on some balance and vision issues related to his traumatic brain injury, but he improved every day. Despite early worries, the young man proved to be the same old Sam, with the same great sense of humor, the same drive, the same positive attitude and the same penchant for wearing silly socks. “Oh yeah, still wearing silly socks,” Sam laughed when asked. “Right now I’m wearing a pair with apes on them.”
It has been a long road to recovery, and Sam still has more to do, but his positive attitude helps him continue to progress. “I’m feeling great,” he said enthusiastically eight months after the accident. “I’m doing all the things I normally do — running, lifting, homework, school and working. As far as running goes, I’m not to the point I was at before the accident, but it all takes time.
I’ll be back there soon enough. I can, I will. Watch me.”
Written by Wade Ellett Photos by Bob Slocum