Jacob Vanlandingham, Ph.D.
As a Florida State University undergraduate, I participated in directed studies in neurosciences under noted FSU biology professor Marc Freeman. I was a month away from starting a degree program in physical therapy at Florida A&M University when my world abruptly changed, and neurology and physical therapy took on a far more personal meaning.
Almost 20 years ago, as I walked out of a restaurant in Gainesville, Florida with a group of friends, I was randomly blindsided with a punch to the left side of my head.
A homeless vagrant, described by police as mentally disturbed and weighing approximately 300 pounds, attacked me without reason or warning. The punch knocked me head first into the curb along University Avenue.
The sequence of events from there could accurately be described as both nightmare and miracle.
First, there was the emergency room physician who falsely assumed that I had been drinking (I had not) and sent me away on the belief that I had merely suffered a harmless fall while intoxicated and would feel better in the morning.
Then there was the call from my father hours later, and the good fortune that I had slept within easy reach of the phone. Several friends and I had gone to Gainesville to help move my older brother, Hugh, to town for the start of medical school.
The morning after the punch, I told my friends to leave for Tallahassee without me. My head was hurting and I wanted to sleep some more.
Alone in the apartment, I was awakened by the ringing phone. I managed to pick it up, but could not speak coherently. Doctors later said I was within hours of death as a result of three blood clots in the brain.
My father understood enough to act quickly, calling an old Marine Corps buddy who lived in Gainesville at the time. The friend drove to my brother’s apartment and, when nobody answered the door, broke in.
He found me unresponsive on the floor, picked me up and drove me to the emergency room – by coincidence, a different one from the night before.
If my father hadn’t called, or his friend wasn’t there to come get me, there’s no telling what might have happened. The doctors said I had about two hours to live.
Today, I am an assistant professor in biomedical sciences at the FSU College of Medicine teaching clinical microanatomy to first-year students. In addition, I am a part of an ongoing effort to improve the chances of recovery from traumatic brain injury.
My own recovery was strenuous, and left me with short-term amnesia for a year following the injury. Yet, I returned to school and earned all A’s in my physical therapy program despite lacking the necessary motor skills to drive. My sweet mother dropped me off and picked me up each day.
I followed with a Ph.D. in neuroscience at FSU under the mentorship of associate professor Cathy Levenson, Ph.D. Our research focused on the effect of dietary zinc deficiency in recovery from a brain injury. That research helped me win a postdoctoral fellowship in emergency medicine and neurology at Emory University in Atlanta, where my focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) intensified.
I helped Emory professors Dr. David Wright and Dr. Donald Stein with a clinical trial to establish the effect of neurosteroids in TBI recovery.
Our work, in the world’s busiest Level I trauma center at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta demonstrated a 50 percent greater chance of survival in cases of TBI where the patient receives progesterone intravenously starting within several hours of injury. Those patients, compared to others with similar injuries who did not receive progesterone, also had a notable decrease in disability at 30 days.
In addition to my teaching duties at the College of Medicine, I am working to establish a research center in Tallahassee for the next phase of study. Stein and Wright already are working with the U.S. defense department in the hope of making neurosteroids available to soldiers injured in Iraq where the majority of roadside bomb attack survivors have TBI in addition to other injuries.
Recently, I worked with the department of biomedical sciences at the College of Medicine to develop a rodent model for brain injury in hopes of discovering other treatments for brain repair.
I was fortunate. I have recovered from my brain injury, and I show no visible signs of lingering affects. Many, primarily young people injured in motor vehicle accidents do not survive, or face a lifetime of disability. I don’t know the names of the men and women who have benefited from my research but better than most, I know what they are going through.
Dr. VanLandingham is currently an Assistant Professor for the Florida State University Department of Biomedical Sciences. He is the Director of Research for the Concussion Clinic and Genetics Laboratory as well as the Memory Disorder Clinic at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare. Dr. VanLandingham develops new rehabilitation interventions for those who have had a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or stroke. He has published numerous articles in the area of Neuroscience, and has obtained multiple grants for his research in the field.
Dr. Vanlandingham earned a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Florida State University in 2004, and a Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy from Florida A & M University in 1997. He is a member of the Society for Neuroscience, American Society for Nutritional Sciences, National Neurotrauma Society, Faculty for Undergraduate Research in Neuroscience, and the International Association of Medical Science Educators.