Diffuse axonal brain injury is one of the scariest diagnoses one can get when it comes to a traumatic brain injury. 90 % never wake up and of those who do, most are in a vegetative state for the rest of their lives. Cavin Balaster beat those odds. He woke up.
In 2011 he had been working at heights, and not tied in, when he fell. His head struck a steal beam on the way down to the concrete rooftop below. Rapid response EMS got him to hospital where he was placed on life support and where his family first received the grim prognosis.
His family were so happy when he woke up but not sure of what the future would hold. It was day to day, touch and go, and a lot of prayer. He had been in a coma for 12 days and then a further week of coma was induced to give his swollen brain a chance to further heal. When he did come back into consciousness he was full of tubes. Tubes to breathe, tubes to eat, tubes to hydrate, medicate and defecate. His injuries were serious. He had badly bruised lungs which were swollen and he frequently aspirated leading to many bouts of pneumonia. This coupled with hospital acquired MRSA (a nasty antibiotic resistant infection) would complicate his road to recovery.
As I listened to Cavin’s story I was curious as to what nutrition his battered body was being given to facilitate healing during those first few months. He laughed at my question “Corn syrup, calcium cassinate, and soy protein isolate. Enteral feeds are appalling. For someone trying to get well I was being fed corn syrup for breakfast lunch and dinner and two more meals, because we have to have five meals when we are eating nothing but sugar”. I chuckled as Cavin’s tone was dripping with sarcasm.
But Cavin did get better, even on corn syrup three times a day. He began to swallow on his own and move on his own and think on his own and 10 months later he was able to move back home with his family. At the time he was thinking “this sucks, my life is over at 27 years old. It took a lot of mental fortitude to switch my perspective, it’s hard to tell it’s raining when you are underwater but I figured : you know what I am on this ride either way. I can go on it kicking and screaming or I can recognize that this is an adventure. And sometimes adventures suck and this is the suck part.”
Stuck at his mother’s house, stripped of his independence, trying to re learn how to walk and talk and get out of his perpetual brain fog. He took the advice from a chiropractor who suggested that he optimize his nutrition. 10 months after his devastating injury, he started an anti-inflammatory gut healing elimination diet. Cavin described it as Autoimmune paleo style, low carb, quality fat and protein, with added glutamine and marshmallow root extract to heal his gut. And with the change in diet came some clarity. The fog lifted. His left hand, which had been contorted inward began to unfurl, to gain strength. Nutrition was bringing him back and he was hungry for knowledge. He watched countless videos listened to hours of podcasts and read textbooks on nutrition.
It was at a conference that he had been invited to, where he first heard about Keto. After listening to Dr Alex Vasquez talk about nutrition and inflammation he realized that “nutrition can really do something for my brain.” The answer to his burning question “what diet is the best for my brain?” was answered. It was KETO. The more he read the more he realized that it was exactly what he needed. It was safe and effective and brain protectant.
“I told my mom I was doing a high fat diet” His mother who had stood by and watched her son come back from the brink of death knew better than to argue and replied “ok just be careful.” And it made his brain feel better. Cavin told me that at when he started Keto his brain did not communicate with parts of his body in ways he wanted it to. Keto has improved that and he feels that it helped his rapid rate of recovery. By the two year mark he had gained back so much. He started writing a blog and wrote about the important events on the anniversary of those dates. He called it Adventures in Brain Injury. The adventure was not sucking quite so much anymore.
7 years later Cavin is a sought after public speaker with a book called "How to Feed a Brain" “My attitude is useful to my recovery; I work at finding the gifts. Perspective is the gift of my injury, the ability to frame my thoughts has been strengthened by this experience.” I am so impressed with Cavin’s ability to reframe his reality into a worldview that lets him take the positivity, or the lesson from every hurdle he crosses.
Sometimes the struggle really does show us the way, but not everyone is open-minded enough to see the signs. Cavin Balaster is, and his experience has made him passionate about optimal nutrition for traumatic brain injury. His new book draws on his vast knowledge and even includes recipes for blenderized gastric feeds. “No more fortified corn syrup. No more starving a brain which can’t make ATP”. Cavin is passionate about overcoming what he calls the “bastardization of our food supply”. He believes fervently that lobbyists and special interest groups should not be behind our hospital food supply. And I agree. If you would like to help Cavin work towards creating a real foods gastric feed option for those with major brain injury please buy his book. Cavin is such an amazing example of attitude overcoming adversity. He has done so with an acerbic sense of humor and is someone to be heard. Please visit his website for more resources or to learn more. As our interview ended Cavin recited a favourite fable, I loved it and thought it was a great footing for managing the ups and downs that life throws at us. Rather than write it down for you I will let you hear it from the horses mouth (pun intended)…you can listen to the audio here.
Cavin's Book, How to Feed a Brain is an amazing resource for "Anyone with a brain" bust especially for those who have sustained a brain injury.