Personal Perspective – “The Ladder”

The Ladder
Andy and Cathleen Napolitano

On June 29, 2010, I was working in a furniture store. We had just finished unloading the weekly delivery when the roll-up door got stuck at the top. I climbed a ladder to see what was wrong. As I did, the door came down onto the ladder, causing me to fall 15 feet to the concrete floor.

The ladder I climbed that day became a metaphor for the ladder I climbed during my recovery from the traumatic brain injury (TBI) I sustained.

  • Rung 1: My wife, my two children, and my friends were my stability. They became my true advocates as they rallied along with me during the many years of my recovery.
  • Rung 2: My wife incorporated my passions for music and the NY Yankees, playing my favorite songs and keeping the TV tuned to the games while I was in a coma.
  • Rung 3: This step involved all the professionals at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in Saddle Brook West Orange who diligently worked with me. Their psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, nurses, and doctors all encouraged me to never give up. During one of my speech therapy sessions, the therapist asked my family what could improve my aphasia. As my kids started talking about rock music, I blurted out, “Mott the Hoople!” The therapist thought I mispronounced something, but my kids said, “No, they were a group in the early 70s!”
  • Rung 4: The next step was being able to participate in my daughter’s wedding. I practiced getting in and out of a car with my Kessler physical therapist. I attended the wedding using a wheelchair but was able to stand up and give my daughter away with the assistance of a spotter.


  • Rung 5: A big step in my ladder was working to walk up and down two flights of stairs with a spotter on each side of me. It was difficult, but I did it!
  • Rung 6: At Kessler, I was able to move from a wheelchair to a cane and eventually progressed to a workout routine I could do on my own.
  • Rung 7: With the use of a Hoyer lift to get into the pool, I was able to do aquatic therapy. Walking around in the water and finally swimming like I used to were so freeing.
  • Rung 8: Conquering technology and games was next. I was trained to use an iPad and computer. I wrote highlights of New Jersey historical information and Revolutionary War places. I was also determined to learn to play games like Rummikub™, Scrabble™, and other word puzzles. Scattergories™ became a favorite of mine. It took time, but I became very successful at it. A staff member at a long-term care center taught me how to play Contract Rummy™ by using 3x5 cards to show me how the winning hands could look.
  • Rung 9: My next step was to return home and live with my wife. While I still have tinnitus and gait issues, I have been independent. My passion for live music was alive and well, and I have attended 14 concerts so far.
  • Rung 10: This last rung involves my increasing involvement with the brain injury community. I’ve participated in many TBI research studies at Kessler Foundation to help discover ways to improve the lives of people with TBI.

Ultimately, the ladder I fell from has given me the framework for my recovery, and it has completely changed my perspective on how I’ve lived my life since my injury.