After the Fall: A CMU student’s accident and its hopeful aftermath

Matt Herrod at Mount Pleasant Apartment complex The Village at Bluegrass, 4300 Collegiate Way, outside the balcony he fell off of in April 2011 (Photo by Monique Belser |
Matt Herrod at Mount Pleasant apartment complex The Village at Bluegrass, 4300 Collegiate Way, outside the balcony he fell off of in April 2011 (Photo by Monique Belser |

Looking at a clock at 5:45 p.m. on April Fool’s Day is Matt Herrod’s last memory before waking up in a hospital.  Matt had gone to a party at Bluegrass Apartments that was broken up by police.

“The cops came to break up the party and the only way to leave was the door or the balcony. The cops were at the door and so you know…”

Matt jumped. Two stories, 20 feet off the balcony.

Although Matt does not know for certain what went through his mind, he imagines he thought something like; “Six other kids jumped, too, and they were fine. I thought, ‘Hey, those kids are fine and I’m a good athlete’ and it was two weeks before I turned 21 so I didn’t want to get caught,” he said, “When you have alcohol in your system, you think you’re invincible.”

After three weeks in a medically induced coma, Matt woke up confused. He was told he had been in an accident. His immediate thought was; car accident.  Looking back, he remembers exchanging stories with another patient in the hospital during recovery saying he didn’t know why he was there but hoped it wasn’t alcohol related.

Matt was suffering from what is commonly referred to as the rebound effect.  His brain had smashed against the left side of his skull and started to bleed. Luckily, the fall cracked his skull allowing the blood to have somewhere to go.  This was the key to his survival.

He jumped off the balcony at 12:30 a.m. April 2, 2011.   He knows he had classes on April 1 and went to News Central 34 but doesn’t remember actually doing either.  He does remember pulling a prank on his neighbor and having to talk to the Resident Assistant.

“I guess that day I didn’t speak to my roommate at all.”

The prank was his roommate’s idea.

Matt didn’t wake up until the third week of April.  The nurses kept saying he was “in an accident.”  Because he wasn’t really with it, he still had no idea what happened to him.

“I know now…I jumped.”

Matt had to search for the answer to the question, “What happened?” well into the following school year. By the first week of June he went to his parents for answers.

“They didn’t know how I fell; they just told me I fell.  I took it upon myself to get the full story.”

It took the summer, fall and winter for Matt to piece everything together after speaking to several friends who were at the party that night.

“At first I was irritated that it was alcohol related. I was hoping a car accident because I wasn’t a party guy. I only drank once in awhile for holidays and special occasions. I’ve even been to plenty of parties where I haven’t drank.”

If he could give advice to someone else in a similar situation Matt says he would try to calm them down and say “don’t panic, it isn’t worth it.”

The accident set Matt back in his studies and his life.

“I had to re-learn how to walk and talk. I have short-term memory problems.  I had to learn how to eat whole foods again.”

He was determined to make a full recovery despite any statistics. He started physical therapy, occupational therapy and began regaining his speech the first week of May and left on June 9.

“I could piss and moan about ‘my life sucks’—but instead I was like well the only way you can get better is get off your ass and do your therapy and do something. You can’t get better by sitting around doing nothing.”

So Matt got to work.

“I made my first word on May 23.”

Shortly after his first word, he began to walk and eat again.  After five weeks in rehab Matt was ready to go home.

“I walked out to my car to go home with no medication and no cane or walker and just my own two feet.”

Matt had been in three different hospitals before being able to go home.  His first stop was Mount Pleasant Hospital.

“A good friend came to see me on that Saturday and he was told by the nurses to say good bye to me because they didn’t know if I was going to survive or be the same person I was before.”

Matt only spent a few hours in Mount Pleasant.  Then he was airlifted to St. Mary’s Trauma Center in Saginaw where they could take better care of him.

“They pretty much kept me alive.”

“Somehow the nurses knew in Saginaw that I would survive.” “I can say this; having a big supporting group around you plays a big role in recovery.”

Four weeks later he was sent to the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan in Detroit for another five weeks.  This is one of the best rehab facilities in the nation.  There is where Matt began eating, talking and walking again.

Before the accident Matt described himself as responsible, organized and focused.  After the accident he says he is a hard worker, has a new perspective by not taking life for granted and is lucky.

Matt has a new appreciation for the real struggles in life and gets frustrated when people take the easy things for granted.

“What is a quiz going to do? Nothing compared to what I went through. Who cares about a freaking exam or cold weather outside? I have had to persevere through so much already. I hate it when people complain about it. You’re not going to die, I almost did. You think studying for an exam is tough? Try not talking for seven weeks, then come talk to me.”

On March 25, 2012 an 18-year-old girl fell from the sixth story at Michigan State University. Matt’s heart goes out to the young woman.

“I know she is going to have a long road to recover and I know the ups and downs and the big thing is to stay positive.  I really feel for her and I know how it feels to be in that situation; living on the brink of death.”

Matt’s own road to recovery isn’t over yet.

Although Matt had been in hospitals for months, his journey wasn’t over yet.  Once he came home he did out-patient therapy two to three times a week.

“I did O.T. and P.T and Speech.”  After his insurance ran out he had to continue his exercises on his own at home.

“When I got home I did six days a week for like three to six hours. I treated it as my full time job.”

Recovery takes time, but he made strides and reached many goals.  When he first began walking he had a limp but it went away in July.  He also only had to take two driving classes before regaining his license around Thanksgiving of that year.

Matt wasn’t able to finish his courses in the hospital, though his teachers allowed him to pick up where he left off.  He was determined to make a full recovery by the fall while continuing therapy.

“Now it is on my own–if it is going to the SAC or alone in my room.”

Central Michigan offers free speech therapy programs so he worked with two graduate students to improve his speaking.

“A lot of it [speech] is going to get better as my brain heals and my tongue gets stronger. It is one of the last things to come back.”

Before the accident Matt’s five year plan was to graduate and begin working at a television station as a sports reporter. Now when asked where he sees himself in five years he responds; “Same thing.”

The left side of Matt’s brain was injured, which means the right side of his body was most affected. He could not write or type as fast as he used to so he had a note-taker accompany him to class at first.  He’s now back to typing out his own notes for class.

Still, the thing that bothers him most is his speech.

“If you look at me you don’t think anything is wrong but as soon as I talk it is like, ‘What happened to him?’”

“I’ve had one class where one girl asked ‘What happened to you?’ she said ‘That was you; No way!’”

Matt has a slight stutter making it clear something had happened to him. Much like many stroke victims Matt slurs some words together but his speech is not slow. He can keep up with a teleprompter and everyday conversation. Like a deaf person learning to speak, some syllables are distorted when he talks but he is not impossible to understand. Matt is still an intelligent person and continues to improve his speech daily.

“I get people who say my speech is improving since last time they saw me and I just say ‘Cool.’”

For the most part people don’t ask him about it. Matt is pretty sure they know.

“I swear at least 70 percent of campus heard about me.”

Matt spent his 21st birthday in a coma.  His celebration has been postponed for a full year by doctor’s orders.

“They say nobody ever lasts the whole year (without drinking) but I will.”

When asked if he is going to celebrate that one year mark he narrows his eyes and smiles with a nod, though he has been back to the scene of the accident at least a dozen times now.

“It doesn’t bother me.  Maybe the reason why I was injured is because I don’t get fazed by things easily so I can be a spokesman for it.”

Matt isn’t sure why this happened to him but doesn’t dwell or feel sorry for himself either.

“Sometimes bad things happen for a reason. I don’t know the reason why yet but I will find out later in life.”

He thinks about the other kids who jumped without being injured and says, “Out of all of the people who jumped I could be the only one that could touch people’s lives by surviving. Maybe I am going to impact people’s lives by telling my story; there are so many lessons to be learned from this.”

Matt still wants to pursue a career in sports reporting but cannot ignore his unique journey.  He sees himself as a sports reporter, though because he doesn’t know if his speech will ever fully recover he would prefer to work behind the camera than in front of it if he worked in broadcasting.

“Being in broadcasting we have a chance to share our voice,” he said.

He does not have a problem sharing his story and could see himself in the future reaching out about it a little bit more, and a woman in Arizona has already contacted him to speak for a youth group about his story.

Matt enjoys much of what any 21 year old guy enjoys; watching sports, hanging out with friends and going to the gym.  He has goals and a bright future ahead of him.  His accident has opened his eyes to a new perspective in life but he does not live his life in fear of what accidents might be around the corner.

“I go about my day but when I take a step back when something bad happens or I see someone in a wheelchair, I think ‘That could be me.’”

At first he said his parents called him everyday just to check up.  But as time went on the calls came on their pre-accident schedule, once every couple of days.  He says his friends and family do not treat him any differently other than being thankful he is still here.

One year since the accident Matt was sitting down eating dinner with a close friend who said, “I can’t believe you are here.”

A hard worker before, Matt has become an even more determined person in the aftermath.

“If you tell me something that I can’t do I will find a way to do it now.”

He jokes about how when he meets a girl someday and has the typical what’s your story conversation; he has a great one.


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    Laura Herrod

    Our miracle. Thanks Erin as well as to anyone who had any part large or small in Matt’s recovery.

    Laura Herrod

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