Sacred Heart University student overcomes great odds to help others after brain injury

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A Trumbull man defied the odds after a debilitating head injury more than 15 years ago and is now working with others with similar injuries.

Garrett Mendez, 35, has been playing hockey since he was a kid.

After playing Notre Dame de Fairfield, he went to the University of Massachusetts, where his life changed forever.

“I slid headfirst into the boards to get a puck and that trauma of hitting my head against the boards is what gave me a stroke,” Mendez said.

“I thought he broke his neck or died, but luckily he got back up,” said his mother, Eileen Mendez.

Shortly after, his stroke left him unable to speak or use his arms and legs. He was rushed to St. Vincent Medical Center.

“I rode in that ambulance which was probably the most terrifying seven or eight minutes of my life,” her mother said.

Nine days before Christmas he was transferred to Gaylord Specialty Healthcare in Wallingford.

“He was very, very impaired. He couldn’t communicate. He didn’t have a lot of active movement in his extremities and he was crying a lot,” said Dr. Alyse Sicklick of Gaylord Specialty Healthcare.

After three months, Garrett Mendez learned to walk and talk again. He has set his sights on something bigger than himself and thanks his family and doctors for all they have done for him.

“They really helped me get to where I am today,” Garrett Mendez said in tears.

Fifteen years later, Garrett Mendez is working with people who have suffered similar injuries through a mentorship program at Gaylord.

“I consider myself an inspiration,” said Garrett Mendez.

“He’s the ultimate testament that hard work pays off,” Sicklick said.

Garrett Mendez has returned to school and is studying psychology at Sacred Heart University. He is on track to graduate this fall.

“Where he came from is a miracle,” said Eileen Mendez.

Mendez’s remarkable recovery is part of an upcoming PBS series called Travels and Traditions.

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