Survival From, Suffering A Deadly Brain Trauma

Asbury Park Press News Paper

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Long Branch man shares his journey

Liz De nne rlein | @lizdennerleinUpdated 4:59 p.m. ET Aug. 11, 2017

Keith Buff’s never been afraid to live his life to the fullest.

From a young age, he gravitated toward action sports — skateboarding, skiing, surfing.

Keith Buff in the hospital after his brain AVM.


“They would close the entire ocean down from hurricane waves,” Buff, 54, of Long Branch, recalled. “As soon as I heard that I’d grab my surfboard and go out and surf the waves. I was like, 'Yee-haw!' "
Ask Buff if he’s a thrill seeker, and he’ll say “wacko” is a more accurate description.


Buff’s adventurous spirit, however, was put on hold in July of 1999. After playing an 18- hole round of golf in Rumson, he passed out and was rushed to the hospital. He
suffered an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) in his brain — a blood vessel had burst,

damaging his cerebellum and brain stem.

Keith Buff riding a hurricane wave before his accident.


His neurosurgeon at the time Bruce Rosenblum, of Shrewsbury, said Buff was in a horrible life-threatening situation.
“The minute the AVM ruptured, it released blood into his brain. The brain is essentially squashed by the blood,” Rosenblum said. “We had to open the head and evacuate the blood."
The pressure from the blood resulted in Buff lapsing into a coma.
He spent at least six weeks in intensive care with tubes in his head , his stomach, his
neck. When he finally woke up, he was told he’d never walk or talk again. “Talk about a wakeup call,” Buff said with a laugh. “Once I realized what was happening, I could think about what I wanted to say, I just couldn’t talk and say what was on my mind.”

Relearning Everything for the first few months, Buff would have to write his

thoughts down on an Etch a Sketch type device.
“It’s like me saying (to someone), ‘OK, from today on do everything with your opposite side. It gives people an understanding of what I’m going through. If you’re right handed, I’d say, ‘OK. Do everything as a lefty. Your brain would know what to do, but it would
feel odd.”


Buff going through intensive physical therapy.


“My mind knows exactly what I want but my body’s like, “Yeah right ”
His mother Cynthia Buff said she and her family were sure Buff was going to die.
“It was just horrible. I never prayed so much in my life,” she said. “I could cry right now thinking about it.”


For a year after the accident, she said he spent his time in a wheelchair connected to a stomach feeding tube because he couldn’t even swallow. She decided to send him to oxygen therapy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The therapy is designed to help the brain heal from trauma, which she attributes to helping Buff “come out of it.”
“It would be easy to sit back,” Cynthia said. “He could’ve gone to an institution and sat
there drooling in his wheelchair for the rest of his life, but that was not going to happen.”



Prior to the accident, Buff was a successful business owner of three real estate companies, a father and a husband.
“I was in a depression. I lost my handicap at golf, I lost my companies, I lost my house,”
Buff said. “But then I got to the point where I could either stay here and be depressed or do the recovery. (You) have to look down the road. You have to try and that’s exactly what I did, thank God.”

Keith Buff during his skateboarding years.


With the help of intensive physical therapy, speech therapy, and oxygen therapy, Buff is able to walk and talk today, although his balance is still a bit off and his speech can be slurred.
“He’ll never be totally normal,” Cynthia said. “He walks like Frankenstein and talks like
the cookie monster, but at least he jokes about it.”
Buff said he’s always had a lighthearted and humorous attitude toward life, which he still
carries with him today.


Buff after the accident with his three children.


Rosenblum said from the moment he met Buff he stayed focused on getting better day by day.
“People sometimes have relatively minor things happen to them and they’re totally
defunct and in a miserable depression,” Rosenblum said. “He is a fighter.”
Buff added that people need to prepare for the possibility of setbacks in life — they can happen at unexpected times, he added.


Buff has a memoir out titled, "Determination: Surviving a Devastating Brain Trauma."


It’s always been in my nature that I can visualize what’s going to happen in the future. “My focus (during this time) was always on the end results. Thank God I had the drive to get better.”