SPECIAL- New road: Life rebuilt from the edge of death

Two months after the accident, Bob Jahrsdoerfer was preparing to return to UVA, but was still struggling with a brain injury.
"I learned to persevere," says Jahrsdoerfer, now a high school director of guidance.

Most of the Sigma Chi brothers in the U-Haul accident returned to school that fall, but for 1981 Albemarle High School graduate and UVA second-year Bob Jahrsdoerfer, the road to recovery took a decade.

"My memory came back vaguely approximately two weeks after the accident," says Jahrsdoerfer, who awoke in mid-October in UVA's intensive care unit. Critically injured, he was being treated for a brain injury so severe that he permanently lost the sight in his right eye.

In fact, Jahrsdoerfer, a rushee, whose skull was punctured over his right eye by a jagged piece of metal, says he might not have survived at all if one of his future fraternity brothers hadn't held his head to keep his airway clear of blood filling his throat.

Initially transported to Lynchburg General, Jahrsdoerfer was soon flown to UVA. As an artery in his brain continued to bleed into his sinuses weeks after the accident, his father, a prominent otolaryngologist, learned about a risky and experimental surgery being performed by a doctor in Boston. A device would be threaded through a leg artery to his brain to cut the damaged blood vessel.

The gamble paid off, and Jahrsdoerfer was able to return for the 1983 spring semester. But without vision in both eyes, the once athletic student wasn't the same in the classroom or on the field. 

"I was not as active, got a big belly. I also lost a lot of self-esteem and self-confidence," he recalls. By spring 1984, the overwhelmed Jahrsdoerfer dropped out of UVA and moved to Texas to be near his father. After two years of working odd jobs, he enrolled in Steven F. Austin State University, where, as his mental faculties gradually returned, he earned a degree in psychology and sociology.

He returned to Virginia in the 1990s to earn a master's degree in counseling from Longwood University. Today, he's the director of guidance at Dan River High School, teaches at a community college, and is working on his doctorate.

He says his career choice stems directly from the accident.

"When you go through something like that, you want to help people who need help," he says. "One of the worst things for me was the psychological impairment that often follows a head injury. I was unhappy and depressed for a period of 10 years."

Despite the hardship of recovery and the challenges he's faced, Jahrsdoerfer says he's feeling better about the way his life has turned out.

"I think things happen for a reason," he says. "Who knows what kind of person I'd be now if I'd kept going through life with things being so easy. I'd never have learned to persevere."