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Perseverance: An Alumnus’ Struggle to Heal; Mahlon Frankhauser ’54

Mahlon Frankhauser
After sustaining a severe traumatic brain injury, Mahlon Frankhauser ‘54 has been an amazing inspiration to others.
Photo courtesy of Mahlon Frankhauser

For 40 years, Mahlon Frankhauser’54 was a securities attorney
for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York
Stock Exchange. He worked hard his whole life and envisioned a retirement filled with relaxation and enjoyment. Unfortunately, that vision changed in December 1997.

Frankhauser was hanging Christmas wreaths outside his home when he fell from a ladder, sustaining a severe traumatic
brain injury. Doctors thought initially that he would never recover
enough to leave the hospital.

He not only left the hospital, he made what his doctors described as a miraculous recovery, one he says he owes to his belief in perseverance. “It’s been my model since the accident,” he says. “It’s important for anyone with a brain injury to never give up, to persevere. For someone in my position, there are three options: hospice care, the grave or persevere. I chose the third one.”

Mahlon’s wife Joan has been his inspiration. “Joan calls me a miracle,” he says. Reflecting on his injury, she adds, “With the type of injury he had—a traumatic brain injury—he didn’t know anything. He had to learn to add and subtract all over again. If you showed him a spoon he knew you could eat with it but he didn’t know what it was called. He didn’t know what a toothbrush was. He was 66 when he had the accident. They put people in nursing homes and stop working with them. He still has some trouble, but it’s just amazing what the brain can do. His determination and his wits and his intelligence are all intact. He’s an amazing inspiration to people,” Joan says.

Mahlon’s journey to recovery has taken more than 10 years. After surgery he was in a coma for two months. He then spent seven weeks
in a rehab hospital, followed by a critical care unit for seven and a half months. When he was released and sent home he spent 22½ hours a day in bed. But after a lot of work and two and a half years, he was finally able to use a wheelchair.

Despite the challenges, the Frankhausers continued to persevere. “After a year they told me that he would never come home,” says Joan.“I thought he’d get better care and improve his memory at home. He’s gone further than anyone thought he would. It’s his nature. He’s very determined. It’s a drive he always had. We have a sign in the elevator that I gave him for Christmas that says ‘Never Ever Ever Give Up.’”

The Frankhausers also had help from Brain Injury Services, an organization in Northern Virginia that assists and guides survivors of traumatic brain injuries. “Brain Injury Services was our lifeline,” says Joan. “It’s absolutely phenomenal.” Funded by a state grant, the organization does not charge patients. By helping her find a case manager and set goals, Joan says, “They guided me through the whole thing until I got him home.”

As for their future plans, Mahlon says he’ll probably continue to do volunteer work such as reading to children at the local library, to which Joan chimes in, “He’s going to keep getting better. Perseverance works for anybody. I’m in awe of him.”

– Julio Bermudez ’08

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