Patient opens up about recovery from brain injury, drug addiction after crash

INDIANAPOLIS – It’s been a long road to recovery for a southern Indiana man who has a new outlook on life and wants others to avoid the same mistakes he's made. Eli Cornwell, 24, said a crash last October that ended with a severe brain injury has led him to get over his addiction to drugs.

Last October, Cornwell, who lives in Daviess County, was on the road when he fell out of a truck going 40 miles per hour. He hit the road head first and suffered a life-threatening traumatic brain injury.

“The accident was because of alcohol," Cornwell said Thursday. "Not many people can fall out of a truck at 40 miles per hour, hit their head on the concrete and fracture the left side of their skull."

Cornwell was rushed to IU Health Bloomington and eventually transferred to IU Health Methodist.

"We really thought we would be planning Eli's funeral," said his mom, Lori Lawyer. "No one thought he was going to make it."

His nurses and doctors felt the same way.

“I admitted him right after the accident happened and then I was with him for four days," said Neuro-Critical Care nurse Caitlin Camp, RN,BSN. "It was over whelming, his prognosis was pretty grim at first.”

Cornwell would spend days in a coma. He has had four brain surgeries - the latest on Feb. 8 to remove bone flap on the right side of his head. He's scheduled for one more this summer.

His brain had massive swelling. The pressure to his head had surpassed levels that have killed others in the past. Cornwell has worn three different sized helmets, each one to fit his head as the swelling went up and down. He still has a helmet he has to wear when on his feet, which he'll have to continue to wear for at least another six weeks.

“This injury was a blessing in disguise," Cornwell said. "Most people can’t say that but I mean it. I’m a better person now than I’ve ever been."

The crash brought Cornwell face-to-face with his drug addiction and was ready to overcome it.

“I started smoking crack when I was 11 and I went all the way to meth when I was 18," Cornwell said about his past. "I have felonies on my record. I’ve done everything out there but three drugs.”

He added he would drink seven days a week, including the night of his crash.

“I’m not proud of my past," Cornwell said. "Looking back on my memories now, it’s like I’m watching TV. I don’t feel like that was me. “

Lawyer has called her son's recovery ‘an absolute miracle’ and some of Cornwell's clinicians say there’s a good chance he can expect a 100% recovery with continued therapy.

Since leaving the the hospital, Cornwell has been able to spend time with his five-year-old son and his daughter, who turned one earlier this week.

He's also sharing his story with others. He's recently spoken to teens at his church about his addiction and how he plans to stay on the right path through recovery.

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