Nobody really knows what happened that night on I-25. Most plausibly, the driver must have fallen asleep, veered into the median, and then overcorrected and hit the guardrail. From what could be pieced together later on, when Baird Duschatko was ejected out the back he probably flew directly into the guardrail.
Baird’s three friends were lucky. They’d all walked away from their car accident with minor injuries. Both people in front had been strapped in and sustained a few cuts and bruises; another friend who’d been sleeping in the hatchback trunk next to Baird had launched out the rear of the car, landing safely on a patch of grass with a twisted knee. Only Baird was left with brain damage. Before the accident, Baird had been a typical college student. Upon waking up in a hospital bed a month later, he was somebody different. Finding out just who that person is has been a long, hard road.
For the next four-and-a-half months, Baird recovered in the hospital, working for hours everyday with both physical and occupational therapists. He’d injured his right frontal lobe and had a diffuse injury. But, he was lucky—had he have been any more severely injured, Baird would have remained a vegetable. “My brain had bounced around my skull. A lot of the neurons detached when that happened. I had to relearn and repeat things over and over again to create new neurological attachments.” Baird relearned how to walk, talk, feed himself, tie his shoelaces—all the simple things a child knows how to do he had to learn again. According to the doctors, one of the main reasons he was even alive was because he was young and in good physical shape. “I put it out of my mind. I refused to accept it. I just wanted to be normal. I was a college kid. That’s all I wanted to be.”
It takes a long time for the brain to find new pathways for severed neurons. Even though Baird was released from the hospital after a few months, he still was not fully healed. Yet, he refused to believe that his brain was damaged. Returning to college life at the University of Colorado at Boulder, he’d missed a semester and his brain was unable to handle a full load of classes. He had to relearn how to study, how to deal with college life in general. And, first and foremost, he had to keep himself healthy so that his brain could continue to repair. “All my friends were partying, playing. I was not supposed to drink. I was not supposed to smoke pot. Of course, I didn’t follow the rules! I wanted to be normal, more than anything I just wanted to be normal.” Baird’s behavior angered his friends. They knew he wasn’t supposed to party, but they didn’t know what to do about it. They were young and carefree and didn’t know how to stop him. “I pissed a lot of my friends off. I lost a lot of good friends. I kind of distanced myself from people because I refused to take care of myself, I didn’t want to believe I was brain damaged.”
For some time, Baird had lived with his best friend in Boulder. They’d been friends since nursery school, close for almost 20 years. But, it was impossible to take care of Baird when Baird wouldn’t take care of himself. The burden was enormous. Finally, even Baird’s oldest friend couldn’t take it anymore. He kicked Baird out. “I got a single apartment and was completely depressed. I refused to think I was injured at all. I thought I was slower. I wasn’t as smart as I used to be. It brought me into this dark, dark place. I was really mad at him for so many years. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began to understand what happened. We’ve finally started speaking again, casually every so often. The whole thing actually made me realize who my true friends were. Some people stuck by me when they could, even though I was a total mess. It really makes you see who’s real.”
Slowly, Baird pulled out of his hole. Despite the setbacks from his hospital stay and injury, he was able to graduate college in six years. Yet, he still didn’t feel “normal,” even though he kept trying to believe that he was. “After my accident, I was in a haze for about eight years or so. Everything was foggy. I felt like I wasn’t connected, like my body and mind were completely disconnected. Mostly because I didn’t accept I had a brain injury. I just tried to push that away and say I’m normal. I’m normal.”
“[Bands for Lands] puts together music events to promote social responsibility and sustainability. Then, we take the funds from each event and put them back into a community project, like land trusts, clean water initiatives, etc.”
After graduating from college, Baird went straight into the music industry. He’d won a large settlement from the accident and was able to live on that for a number of years while he got a leg up in the music promotion management business. Still though, he was haunted by this idea that he was no longer smart, no longer “normal.” He bounced around all over, living in Boston, Telluride, Brooklyn, and San Francisco, among other places. “I didn’t really want to put roots down anywhere. I wanted to experience as much as I could while I was young, I told myself. Really, I was just running away. Running away from the idea that I had to concentrate on myself—my inner self.”
In San Francisco, Baird found spirituality for the first time. “I grew up with no spirituality whatsoever, my family is basically atheistic. When I lived in San Francisco, I read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda and it totally changed my world. This is what I wanted my life to be like!” Baird moved to Los Angeles, in part to spend time at Yogananda’s Self Realization Fellowship Temple in the Pacific Palisades. He was looking for a new path, a way to heal. But, he still wasn’t done running. “In Los Angeles, I was involved with substance abuse, the whole deal. I really didn’t like myself. It was almost like I was trying to kill myself, not actually attempting but thinking about it a lot.” He became deeply involved with an older woman. “It was a very dramatic relationship. She wanted to marry me but I didn’t want to marry her.”
Realizing that it was time to get the hell out, Baird decided to make a drastic change. His settlement money had run out, he was broke. It was time to go. “She went away for the weekend and when she was gone I packed up my stuff and left. I had to do it that way. I had to go.” Leaving a lot of his belongings behind, Baird left the limelight he had so craved. “I was rolling through life with no real purpose—just trying to be the ‘entertainment guy.’ I’d gone straight into the music industry and it took 12 years to figure out this was not what I wanted to do.”
Baird had hit bottom. And, what to do when you are on the ground floor? Go back to the beginning of course! So, Baird returned to Boulder. “I ended up moving to Boulder completely broke. I had a friend who let me stay with her until I got my feet on the ground. I needed to hit bottom, I needed that happen so I could turn things around. I was in complete poverty, which was the exact opposite of how I’d grown up, how I’d lived. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I wanted to be part of society, to get back on track.” Baird worked odd jobs for a little while. He found Shaktipat meditation. He started learning how to take care of himself. And, he started to heal, finally. Baird saw that the way he’d been living was completely wrong. “There was a reason I got into an accident. I think I was really on the wrong trajectory in my life. I was kind of on the party train. If I get New Age about it, I can say I actually attracted that accident to me. So I could learn. But it took me at least 11 years to realize that! I’ve done a lot of good things in my life but not really with much purpose behind them. Part of my growth is to see that what I thought were my passions weren’t really passions at all. They were just ego-based.”
As if the universe knew it was his time to shine, a wonderful opportunity came out of nowhere to fall in Baird’s lap. “This Bands for Lands non-profit organization found my resume online and called me. It was exactly what I needed!” Baird was tired of being self-serving and had come to the realization that when you work for the greater good, good things happen. “I never thought I’d be promoting sustainability and conservation! Now, I’m the creative director for Bands for Lands (http://bandsforlands.org) and I love it. We put together these music events to promote social responsibility and sustainability. Then, we take the funds from each event and put them back into a community project, like land trusts, clean water initiatives, that kind of stuff.” Now, Baird is looking at obtaining a masters degree in environmental leadership from Naropa Institute and hopes to broaden Bands For Lands’ footprint. “By 2010, we want to be on the road with our biodiesel/vegetable oil fueled truck that’s been converted into a sound/art/media stage (the Mobile Edutainment Collaboratory) for 10 months out of the year. The goal is to initiate positive change in every community.”
Looking back on what he’s been through and where he is today, all Baird can say is that it’s been a serious whirlwind. While he still battles depression, and anxiety, as well as some chemical imbalances and memory issues from the accident, he finally feels like he’s found normalcy. His growing spirituality and role in building Bands for Lands has helped enormously. “I’m learning how to take care of myself, which is a weird thing to do at 35! I’m learning new things every single day, involving myself with lots of different projects. I started painting again, some writing and sculpture, too. All that helps relieve the stress and anxiety. But, mostly it’s accepting myself for who I am. Knowing I’m a good person no matter what. It took a very long time for me to come back to myself after my accident. I definitely beat myself up for a long time. But then I realized everything’s ok. I am ok. And, it’s time to move forward.”
Thank you Baird, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Tamar Burris Story of My Life®