Below is the Foreword by my dear friend and therapist, Dr. Anita Kozan! She had written one for the first edition, it was only perfect if she wrote one for the second. It is essentially the same, yet Anita made necessary changes, while adding info to acknowledge who I have become. My favorite part related to her reference to life renewal. Seven years between editions. Seven years between cells renewing themselves. I am forever grateful for having met this beautiful person, Anita! As I reflect on my journey, I look back and see the people I would not have in my life had I never been hurt. Anita is one of many. Hope you like the foreword!
Who is Nick Dennen? In order for you to appreciate who he is now, you need to know who he was then. I will never forget the first time I saw him. Sitting in a wheelchair in a hallway, his gaunt man-child body leaning slightly forward, oblivious to the hubbub around him, eyes open but distant, gaze cast downward at nothing, he remained motionless. A woman stood at the back of his chair, talking to his therapist. Her calm warmth spread toward her son as if to soothe him.
The next time I saw him, he was upright, gingerly and slowly walking along a hallway wall with the assistance of a physical therapist, looking even taller and thinner than I remembered, but with a glimmer of concentration piercing the clouds in his eyes. His mind was starting to work, telling each foot to move forward carefully, concentrating to maintain his fragile balance. His mother walked slowly behind, matching his steps, a proud smile beaming on her face, her joy cushioning his every move.
I officially met Nick Dennen months later when he became my patient at Abbott Northwestern Hospital’s Sister Kenny Institute Brain Injury Clinic in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Ten months had passed since he had escaped death. During that time he had transferred to our hospital, gone from in-patient to day hospital rehabilitation and finally made it to a specialty out-patient clinic through the sheer force of his indomitable spirit and the unflagging support of his dedicated family and friends. He was motivated to improve every aspect of his communication, including his pronunciation, conversational skills, and general use of his voice, as well as his reading and writing. His mother, Patty, became his work partner at home, continuing to be a source of encouragement as well as constructive feedback. Our sessions together at the hospital revealed steady progress in every aspect of his work. The severity of the brain injury still impeded his awareness of some of his limitations and there was no magic potion to speed that up, but he was perfectly clear about his determination to recover as much as he could, including his physical strength and stamina. His eyes shone with dedication and pride when he described his daily progress at the gym near his home, where he had first entered with his father Jack’s physical as well as emotional support. Now he worked out like a house afire, setting and meeting goals like every other athlete there.
Nick wanted to be discharged from our out-patient program five months after we started. Who could blame him? He needed to be back out in society, testing himself in yet unimagined ways, perhaps first by working, then attending school, seeing his friends, and ultimately making a life. He left to begin the next phase of his recovery, and with it the continued integration of his mind with his body and with his spirit. He stopped by to see me every few months, looking brighter and stronger every time, talking more easily and using more sophisticated vocabulary. He began writing e-mails to me, telling me about his life, about college, asking questions about the speech and language aspects of his brain injury, and letting me glimpse his spiritual journey. He sent me inspirational messages that he had found helpful, and eventually our e-mail and in-person conversations took on a collegial nature. I usually tell my patients that, even though I am their doctor and they are my patients, they are also my teachers and I am their student. I learn from everyone I see, and not just in terms of acquiring professional knowledge. However, never before had I the privilege of working with anyone as injured as Nick, who through his rigorous discipline and compassionate desire came to a place where he could write such an inspirational book as 23.
So, welcome to the world of Nicholas P. Dennen, a human just being himself, striving to become the best he can be and giving voice to his journey. He is now farther along that road, having just completed the second edition of this book, seven years after the first edition. I cannot quantify the changes that have occurred in that period, but as surely as the cells in the human skeleton are renewed every seven years, so has Nick renewed himself once again. I certainly believe that he would have been a success in life, no matter what, but the circumstances that led to him writing 23 also profoundly affected his view of the world. Nick is a man who listens carefully to others, whoever they might be. He asks them questions about themselves and shares the stories of his life in ways that inspire people to find within themselves that intangible resource that we all need to thrive – hope. He ministers to their uncertainty, suffering, and sometimes simply to their humanity. He celebrates their successes. He meets and talks to people wherever he goes. Living his life in this way, he has grown into a man who has intelligence, insight, gentleness, humor and compassion. His ability to communicate helps his fellow travelers on the road of life to heal their ills, whether of mind, body or spirit.
Nick is a man who survived a tragedy and lived to tell about it, who unlocked the words trapped within his mind and the feelings within his soul, and in the words of French writer Emile Zola, “…came to live out loud.” He will take you where he has been and encourage you by showing you the possibilities before you, possibilities you can embrace if you have faith in yourself. He is living proof of Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel’s eloquent words: “We become what we think of ourselves.” He will not speak in platitudes but rather will touch you with his acceptance of his struggle to become whole, and will inspire you with the joyful healing his new life continues to embody. I hope that Nick Dennen will do for you what he does for me – believe that the best is yet to come. And even more important – believe that it can come from within ourselves.
May peace flow through you like a river, no matter whether or not you know the next step of your journey. And remember to ask for help along the way. You never know whom you will meet. It just might be Nick!
Anita L. Kozan PhD, CCC
Speech and Language Pathologist
Kozan Clinic for Voice, Speech and Spirit, LLC