Messenger - Vol. 4, No. 2, Page 5
Trooper's rehabilitation from head injury an inspiration

     Randy Armistead, Delaware '85, could be bitter. Many people in
his shoes would be. Just two years after graduating from the
University of Delaware, Armistead suffered a traumatic brain injury
that forced him to undertake a long and arduous rehabilitation-a
process that continues to this day.
     But, if you visit Armistead, you'll find hope and determination
rather than anger or defeat, because Armistead's life is driven by the
future, not the past. As he strives to realize his full potential,
Armistead has become an inspiration to others in similar situations
and an outspoken advocate of tougher laws to prevent situations like
the one that nearly took his life.
     Armistead was a Delaware state trooper and volunteer firefighter
in 1987 when a 21-year-old woman on cocaine slammed into the police
car he was driving on duty. The crash killed the driver and two
passengers in her car and left Armistead in a coma for three months.
     Today, he is in rehabilitation through the ReMed/Bryn Mawr
Rehabilitation Hospital Supported Living Program, a re-entry program
that promotes independence while offering daily assistance. Armistead
lives with two housemates in a Malvern, Pa., home that's owned by the
program, and he follows a rigid schedule of work, therapy, exercise
and household chores.
     The 32-year-old Armistead breaks into a contagious smile as he
talks fondly about his "good days" before the crash. He matter-of-
factly explains that damage to his brain's frontal and temporal lobes
has restricted his mobility and slowed his speech. He was forced to
relearn such basic functions as chewing, walking and talking.
     Armistead now speaks to high school and college students and
civic groups about the struggles he's faced-and still faces-and how
the accident has changed his life forever. His overriding message:
Never drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
     A criminal justice major at Delaware, Armistead became interested
in law enforcement while he was a campus security guard. He also
worked as a volunteer firefighter and an emergency medical technician
while at the University.
     "That was back in my prime days," he says. "As a student at
Delaware, I woke up and turned on the scanner."
     Armistead cites lack of mobility as his biggest day-to-day
frustration. "I don't have a driver's license. If I have to go to the
hospital (where he works one day a week as a horticulture aide), I
have to rely on the program's van for transportation and go through
scheduling," he says. Yet, he finds a silver lining, adding, "If
anything, that teaches you patience."
     Armistead stays busy. On Mondays and Tuesdays-his "money-making
days"-he unloads and stacks boxes of crafts at a warehouse for a non-
profit organization. His weekly schedule also includes therapeutic
horseback riding and swimming classes, jogging, weight-lifting and
speech therapy. At home, he takes turns carrying out the trash,
shopping for groceries and cleaning.
     Twenty-two ribbons that he's won in handicapped divisions at
horse shows hang on one wall of his bedroom. Although he began the
activity as therapy, horseback riding has become one of his favorite
     Armistead says his main goal is "to get and maintain a steady
job." He also strives to increase his mobility and, eventually, to
find "Miss Right."
     Megan Daly, Armistead's rehab case manager in the supportive
living program, says Armistead is overcoming many of his limitations
because of his determination and his family's support.
     "He has increased his awareness of his barriers, and he works at
finding alternative ways to achieve something that he normally would
have been able to do without thinking twice," Daly says. "He lives in
the community with real neighbors and interacts on a daily basis with
the general public. He's an integral part of the community."
     Armistead's parents, Connee and Richard Armistead, call their
son's recovery a miracle. "The lesson we've learned is that everyone
takes things for granted. We take for granted our everyday ability to
cope with life. This is a jolt. It makes you realize life is so
precious," Mrs. Armistead says.
     Since the accident, Armistead, his parents and his brother,
Dexter, have dedicated their lives to helping prevent similar
tragedies. They have become advocates for stricter driving-under-the-
influence (DUI) laws, and they support efforts to develop educational
programs with the medical profession that enlighten the public about
brain injuries.
     "The public is uninformed and it is quick to put labels on
people. It is important for people with head injuries to be
understood," Mrs. Armistead says.
     The Armisteads actively support the federal Traumatic Brain
Injury Bill, which would recognize brain injuries as a disability and
provide help and education to brain-injury survivors.
     Armistead, who was wearing his seat belt at the time of the
crash, also supports strict seat belt laws. As he was relearning to
walk, he was pictured on billboards throughout Delaware wearing a seat
belt in a state police car as part of the state's seat belt awareness
     Armistead speaks to students as part of Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation
Hospital's "Cruisin', Not Boozin'" injury prevention program, and to
civic groups and senior citizens about the perils of drinking and
driving and the importance of taking precautions to avoid injuries. He
also addresses police officers, encouraging them not to give breaks to
people on drugs or alcohol, and he speaks to DUI offenders.
     The year after Armistead's accident, the half-time show at
Delaware's Homecoming was dedicated to Armistead. The Delaware 200
Club, a philanthropic organization, established the Trooper Randall P.
Armistead Scholarship, which is given annually to the children of
police officers and firefighters who have been injured in the line of
     So inspirational is the Armisteads' story that they were chosen
as one of a handful of families to participate in an educational film
produced by Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. The
film is intended to help educate rehabilitation professionals and
others about the far-reaching effects of brain injuries, especially as
the injuries relate to re-entering day-to-day life.
     "We never expected Randy to come this far," Mrs. Armistead says.
"By all indications, he has come much further than ever expected.
Hopefully, someday, he will live on his own. That's the big, big
                                         -Marylee Sauder, Delaware '83